Chapter 1: the beginning of something reborn
Tim fucked up. Hard, immensely hard. He's got a lot of fuck this hurts and payback is going to be hardcore after this going on. He's got to get the hell outta here pronto.
The only problem is : his Ducati is trashed (that alone has his pissed off meter ramped to blood red) which means he's down a vehicle and an escape plan.
His left leg is also hindered by a deep gash wound and his right side is smarting with the possibility of two broken ribs. Nothing is ending right, his plan was to be quick and efficient : infiltrate the hideout, locate the crates of illegal firearms mixed in with the toy guns, plant as many trackers as needed and get the hell out of there. He hadn't realized there was an unexpected meeting going on (because the Red Hood had been sniffing about and they needed to discuss this on the day Red Robin came to town) and months of working the case now goes down the train. He'll probably lose any trace of the international buyers at this rate, scared off by his revealed involvement no doubt. All in all Tim is frustrated, his suit is half ruined and he's having a really shitty night.
What makes it worse is his only other option.
Normally if he found himself in this kind of sour predicament (which wasn't too often no matter what Bart says) he'd call Kon to come pick him up. At Titans Tower there is an extensive medbay and his Perch to chill at. However, Kon is off world mentoring with Clark (thank god for that development because the mentorship angst between him, Kon and Bart is ridic-u-fucking-lous) and Bart would be sleeping like the dead because he wasn't trained by the goddamn Batman to be an insomniac ; to be fair he was already one before he'd been Robin but Tim doesn't like to think about those days anymore.
The dilemma is he has to call the Bats, there is no way around it other than lying down and bleeding to death if one of those goons with a gun doesn't come around the corner and shoot him first.
Why would a former Robin hesitate to call for back up from Gotham's vigilantes you ask? How about he emphasizes on the former Robin bit on his crime fighting resume. After Dick took away the R, after the Battle For the Cowl, after having to reinvent himself as Red Robin, after losing his spleen taking down the Council of Spiders and saving the fucking Batman from dimensional time displacement, after all that bullshit, he hadn't been back to Gotham to hang out with the Bats for bingo night. That's about, let's say, almost two years.
So yeah, he could realistically lift his index finger and push the GET HELP button on his harness but the fact is he really fucking does not want to do that.
Hence the dilemma.
Really Tim, phone a friend, you say, well if he had any friends here left in Gotham (which isn't fair to say of Steph or Babs or Cass when she came around or Harper or, hell, Duke and even Kate) or felt comfortable facing Dick or Bruce or Jason or bratty, venom-lipped Damian again then maybe he'd consider it... for a second... or not, probably not, probably never.
Now you're getting angry faceless person judging his life. Now you're shouting," Hey fucko! Suck it up and do the thing!"
Well Tim has a very harsh," Fuck you!" coming right back at you for that.
He's bitter, okay, he's still hurting. He's lost more than blood, more than pride or just the damn moniker known as Robin. He lost his parents, for fuck's sake. Both his bestfriends at one point were dead. Stephanie, Spoiler, former Batgirl, his ex, was at one point dead. Bruce, his adoptive father, a man he owed his future to, was presumed dead. His hero, Jason, stabbed him after refusing to become his sidekick, left him to die (not the first time Jay, might wanna find a new party trick some day). Damian wearing the tunic and the R, insulting him, chopping him down, making him feel unworthy.
It hurt, god had it hurt. He could take all that, he had to. The kicker, the last straw? Dick fucking Grayson, someone he'd deeply respected (still does deep down where he hides his old wounds) ripping away Robin from his fingers as if he had the right, as if Tim hadn't earned it, as if Tim wasn't the one meant to pass it on. Dick who thought he was crazy for believing Bruce could still be alive. Like they weren't partners, like they weren't brothers.
Invalidating all his sacrifices, his hard work, who Tim Drake had been.
So the hesitation, the unwillingness, its fucking real shit, okay? Fuck off with your forgive them crap, the hold hands and sing kumbaya bullshit because Tim, Red Robin, doesn't give a flying fuck about doing any of that. It's not like they'd come knocking on his door for the passed two years either ; he got a message, he sent the intel, he moved on to the next case.
But right now he doesn't have much of a choice and with a sigh he activates the signal on his suit and waits.
In the meantime he finds a shadowed alcove to huddle in, makes a tourniquet by stripping the already damaged left legging to stop the blood flowing from the gash. He realizes one of his shoulders aches something fierce and a mental mantra of fuck, fuck, fuck! is shouted into his hindbrain very loudly as his muscles seize up in pain. Too much ow fuck ow is going on, makes Tim slump against the cold brick at his back.
Two minutes have gone by and Tim is really getting tired of riding the fail coaster this week. Luckily things are about to get more complicated when another minute is all he has before two figures touch down near him, one black and one blue.
Batman and Nightwing. Well fuck me.
"Red Robin," the famous Dark Knight growl rouses him from passing out right there.
"Hey, B," trying for casual has never been easy when facing down the World's Greatest Detective," how's it goin'?"
A gruff grunt is the sound of disapproval because of course Batman would know deflection better than anyone else. To Tim's horror it's Nightwing who picks him up into a pair of strong arms, grip secure and tight. The Bat stillness from them both is putting Tim on edge and to be real he'd rather avoid whatever conflict is going to go down right about now.
"Let's get you home."
"Not... home...," he slurs before passing out.
He wakes up in the Batcave's medbay and that's... really not a happy realization. He hasn't been here since he brought Bruce back from dimensional fuckery awhile back. What once was his place is now just a hollow reminder of what he's given up (read : lost, taken away, made to give up) after becoming Red Robin and devoting all his time to the Titans. Sure, he's sent information for cases when he gets emails or whatever and he still oversees the R&D projects at Wayne Enterprises under the radar. Coming here, being here is a whole other monster because that brings him face to face with -
"Bruce," he sighs and stops mid-motion from sitting up. He's hooked up to the usual monitors, the machines and - oh shit oh shit I forgot to tell them -
"We found you just in time before sepsis kicked in. It would have been nice to know you lost a spleen between now and whenever I saw you last." Bruce is staring down at him with a hard frown and focused eyes on the IVs stuck to his arms.
"I forgot," he says lamely, lying. If he wasn't too occupied with pain management then he'd have said it in a snarkier tone.
"I'm getting the medicine started now. You'll be asleep for most of that time." He opens his mouth to object, that the worst is over, that he can find his way back to the Tower and his Perch for some good solitude and self-TLC (maybe if he asks nicely Raven will cook for him, if she's there right now) when Bruce raises a hand to silence his complaint. "You've got new scars I haven't seen before. I'll need a detailed account and a new physical update done before you can think about walking out of here."
It's a command, a no argument command.
He could've tried a little harder to deny, to remind everyone that he's been basically off the Bat-Radar for almost two years now and no one said anything to make him come back (except for Steph, Cass, Babs, Duke, people who said they missed him and please don't get emotional right now, leave the past where it lies man) but the drugs must be starting to grab hold because he can't quite fit the words into his mouth or roll them out.
"Cheater," he says instead. He falls asleep right after Bruce smiles.
He wakes to Dick sitting beside the cot, head in his hands. Tim says nothing, too groggy to do much else but lie there and watch, isn't willing to be the one to start talking anyway. The drugs are still coursing through his veins, not too far gone but soon enough.
"Been away a long time," Dick speaks and finally lifts his head. The smile is a weak imitation of the pure sunny delight that is usually there. Then again, why would Tim think that Dick wanted to smile at him at all anymore after what happened? "We're overdue for a movie night. After you get better and we move you on upstairs we can watch the Goonies, remember I promised? I promised we'd watch it the last time... the last time we..."
Tim chews his lower lip, back teeth grinding. Dick doesn't have to finish that sentence for Tim to know what he means. The last time we were partners. The last time I was Robin.
This is going to suck hardcore.
"No," he's slurring again, makes an annoyed noise in the back of his throat," gonna go back."
"Tow...er," he tries to enunciate clearly, struggling," Ti...tuns."
Dick doesn't look too pleased at that. "You need to stay here for a little bit. It's been a long time since you've visited. Alfred is worried. Well, we all are and," he leans forward to stare directly into Tim's soul with those deep blues," I miss you."
"No," he says quietly.
"Timmy," soft voice, too many memories tainted to trust it," come on. A few nights, we'll get you better and do some patrols. The Titans got Rae and BB to take care of things while you're here. Hang with me, we got some catching up to do."
The last sentence has a bit of a hard edge to it, the subtle flicker of eyes down to the sheet covering an intricate pattern of scars marring his skin that hadn't been there the last time Dick remembered. And that is a whole plate of NOPE he doesn't want to deal with or explain.
Tim shakes his head fiercely, the drugs muddling his thoughts more now, sedatives making him sleepy. He wants to rip the IVs out and start running, wants to escape, wants out.
He shuts his eyes tight, wills Dick to go away, to leave him alone, to let him continue on his path unhindered by old hurts and wants and needs. Weaknesses, liabilities, things that weren't his anymore.
Somewhere between Dick grabbing his shoulders and his heart monitor going crazy, Tim falls into slumber again.
Opening his eyes reveals a lot more people standing around him than the last time he'd been woken. It makes him angry for some reason he can't recall. He doesn't want to be here right? He wants to go back to the Tower, to his Perch, wants to curl up in his bed and drink coffee, look over notes for recent cases, figure out his next plan of attack -
Go, go, go, keep moving forward, forward, forward -
"Tim," Bruce's voice gains his unfocused gaze. "Tim, I'm going to need to change your bandage. Dick is going to help hold you up, keep you sitting."
He whimpers, unable to vocalize how much he really doesn't want to be touched right now. He tries to twist away when Dick grips an arm but Jason is on the other side who takes it upon himself to grab the other arm and help him sit up, have his back leaned half on both chests. Bruce is hovering closer, slips the sheets down to bunch at his feet, reaching out to undo the strips of white along his leg first.
He's wearing shorts and nothing else, idly wonders who got the job of undressing him earlier. A mental image of Damian attempting it with a disgusted expression has him giving a weak chuckle.
A flinch when his wound stings while Bruce cleans it meticulously, always concerned about sterilization and possible infection. Dick and Jason's grips are unyielding but gentle, their hands (no gloves, no uniforms) are warm against his skin and the touch means more than he's willing to admit, makes him want to bury himself in their arms.
Can't. Won't. Don't.
"It's okay," Dick's voice is meant to be soothing yet brings hives up his insides, twists his heart painfully," you're doing good. Leg is all done, ribs next. Just breathe."
He rocks to the other side, away from that voice, Jason catching his weight and pushing him back. "Easy, Timbo. Gonna fall off if ya do that."
There's nothing he can do but observe as Bruce rewraps his leg before moving over to his ribcage. Alfred is disposing of red-tinged bandages, Dick is talking still in soft tones, Jason has his chin placed atop of Tim's head (because he's a tall bastard) and when his eyes inevitably find Damian at the foot of the cot, he finds the youngest looking uncomfortable and... guilty? Tim must be imagining things.
"Hate this," he blurts out more clearly than he feels. "Want Perch."
"Can't do that, Timbo. Ya gotta kick up your feet for a bit and hang with us."
"No," he says petulantly," Perch."
Jason snorts. "Alright, Caveman. After you're all healed up."
He's too doped up to stop himself from stomping his heel on the mattress temperamentally. He feels like such a child, wrapped in their arms, under their attention. Worse that he can't think, can't compose himself, can't find a way of escape.
And he doesn't realize he's crying until Bruce is swiping a thumb over a hot, red cheek. He must look like he's about to throw a tantrum and isn't that just stupid? That they are treating him as if he is fragile, as if they know he's been breaking, as if they know they've broken him more than a dozen times and counting.
"It'll be okay." Dick is saying this against his ear now, hand slipping to place him in a one-armed hug as Bruce continues to rub at his cheeks, eyes a dark blue swirl of reassurance and warmth, concern and, fuck it hurts to admit, affection. "We've got you. We've got you."
The blur melts colors and figures together but even so he can still make out Damian coming closer, behind his father's shoulder, the touch of fingers encircling an ankle without threat of violence. Alfred returns to rest a hand on his shoulder, by Jason's side.
He is surrounded. He is trapped.
He doesn't want to remember that at some point he'll have to leave. He sleeps.
There are no instructions on what to do when dealing with a hug monster like Dick Grayson. Waking up cuddled into his side while doped up on some good shit (because man does he feel floaty, barely there, like a cloud, like air) may not be a good idea.
Especially when he is unhinged and emotional.
"Off," voice muffled in a blue shirt, a V-neck so his forehead touches skin.
"I think not." The vibration he can feel is totally this asshole laughing at him. "Someone needs a big dose of cuddling and I'm seriously overdue for some Timmy time."
"Dun want you," he half-slurs, half-bites out (a lie, he kinda does, a smidge). He doesn't feel bad when Dick moves back just enough to catch his gaze and give him those hurt puppydog eyes. "G'way."
"Hey, hey, Timbo. You're starting to hurt Dickie's feelings here."
Since when was Jason here? "G'way too."
The older boy flat out laughs at him. "No can do. Gonna sit my ass right here," and oh, he's in the chair at his back," and watch Big Bird over there try to absorb ya into his body."
He makes a face, still staring up at Dick. "Gross."
Dick just grins. "Become one with me, become one with meeeee."
"That's fuckin' creepy," Jason snorts.
At this point Tim is wiggling, trying to get out of the octopus hold. "Dun touch."
"No!" He tries to shove at the chest under his hands but Dick doesn't budge. "You threw me away... you left me, you took the R." He's starting to babble, tears threatening to spill once again down his cheeks. "I want out. I want out now!"
That has Dick pulling away a little more, hovering over Tim's lying body. Not much better than before because now he can see every emotion Dick let's him see, wants him to see. Of confusion, hurt, of concern and guilt.
"I didn't," he starts to say, makes a pained noise," do that. I know things went sour. I know I didn't explain myself better, didn't go about it the right way. I wasn't trying to hurt you. I was trying to keep everything together, for Bruce, for Damian, for me, for you."
"It was mine," he hears himself snarling and, hey, that floaty feeling makes it near impossible to keep his mouth in check. "I earned it. I worked so hard to prove myself. To Bruce. To Jason. To you."
"We know," Jason is saying, all placating where usually his corners are sharp, his edges jagged knives," that's not what we think. We know you did."
"I lost everything," he barrels through, can't stop, doesn't want to, would rather get this venom out of his throat before it burns him up inside. "My parents, you asshole, my parents..." He's openly sobbing now, hands fisted in the sheets at his sides, white-knuckled. "I just wanted them to be proud, even if they weren't supposed to know. Then mom had to die and dad was murdered. I just wanted to make them happy, why was that so hard? I just wanted to know what it felt like to fly. To have a piece of that for myself."
Because they didn't give you a chance. They didn't stay, they never stayed. Dad told you to stop too, didn't believe in you, no one ever believes in you.
"I thought you believed in me. I thought we were partners."
"We are," Dick insists. "Things needed to change is all. It was time to move you forward, let you come into your own. Like I did when I became Nightwing."
"Liar," he huffs, haphazardly uses a numb limb to brush away at his face, wet and irritable. "Wanted me gone, out of the way. Like Damian. Like Jason."
"Hang on there kid," Jason cuts in again, this time his voice is harsh. "I was fucked up back then, yeah? We're passed that now. Jus' a bunch of Pit rage and green monster. You wore the R so good, Timbo, so good it put me and Dickie to shame. You are a Bat, so much like B it's kind of scary."
"Yeah," Dick agrees softly. "Too much. You were destroying yourself trying to be everything, trying to be the Robin everyone needed."
"Ya dun know anythin'," hissed, teeth bared.
"You did this for Bruce, you stuck around for me, brought me home, brought me back. You held on when Steph and Cass showed up. You gave Babs an ear to talk to, listened when she couldn't talk to anybody else. You were there for Jason even when he was hurting you, even when you were scared."
"Shut up! Jus'... jus' shut up."
"You did all you could. Even for Damian who pushed you away, who made you feel like you didn't deserve to be Robin. But you did, you always did. I never meant for you to think that."
He heaves, stutters breath after breath, can't get enough air into his lungs. Dick's arms come back around him, pulls him carefully into a strong embrace, bracketing him in warmth and familiarity. He feels like utter shit, a complete mess, breaking down infront of two people he respects, has looked up to both since he was just a kid behind a camera lens on Gotham's rooftops.
"Fuck off," he tries weakly to regain some kind of control back over himself.
"No way," Dick tells him in the Batman voice (because how crazy is it that Dick, this happy-go-lucky golden retriever in the shape of a man, was Batman at one point)," I'm staying with you, Timmy. Never going to let you go again. Going to return the favor from all those years ago. I'm going to bring you home."
"What he said," Jason adds in, reaches a long arm out to ruffle Tim's hair. "Except, ya know, you're already home."
And Tim knows this conversation, this one right here, isn't over. Not by a longshot because he's certain every Bat in Gotham or abroad is going to want a piece of him, tell him this and that, apologies and pleas and threats (read : Steph) about him coming around more often, about him rejoining the family for good, enough of the keep away game. He knows this because he's a Bat and Bruce hasn't had a chance to speak to him directly about it yet (and no, he's not looking forward to that either, no thank you).
However, he's too tired, too floaty, too tear-stained and physically incapable of doing anything other than lying there at their mercy to fight back at the moment. He's going to let them win this round, stay the few days needed to recover (he'll have to contact the Tower so they know he isn't dead and don't go panicking that their only non-meta isn't where he said he'd be and, god, they've been on his ass too since the whole Council of Spiders fiasco, after seeing him battered and ready to keel over too many times to be a healthy habit) and maybe cozy up to Alfred for a bit because he's really missed the butler's cooking.
Tim closes his eyes and sniffles.
Tim falls asleep.
Chapter 2: progress unmade
Which reminded Tim…
“Alfred, I need a favor.”
“Unless it’s to help you into a bath and being fed by a spoon, I suggest such a proposal be kept silent,” said the butler shrewdly, side-eyeing the bedrester in his care.
“I have to contact my team.”
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
The problem with staying in the Manor is that it brings up too many memories. Tim wants to crawl out of his own skin and wash down the drains in the shower area of the Batcave just to escape. Each time he wakes up the soreness of his battered body fades, but the emotional turmoil settles thickly across his shoulders. He’s anxious, looking for an opportunity to run, tries to be discreet when someone is down here with him which seems to be done in consistent intervals.
He blinks slowly before turning his head. The medicine may be working yet he’s tired to the bone, the sleeping aid Bruce gives to him at night before patrol sinks him into sleep when it’s just Alfred around. “Hm?”
“I have prepared your dinner. I expect it to be eaten down to the tiniest morsel.”
Alfred, bless the butler because really how could Tim ever be mad at him, has made it a personal mission to fatten Tim up. Upon seeing him in the medbay that first night, he’d commented non-discreetly about the young man’s complexion and weight, clucking his tongue disapprovingly any time Tim didn’t finish his meal to the butler’s satisfaction. It was strange being fussed on now that he’d been on his own ; although the Titans did that plenty after a few close calls of almost losing their only non-powered human team member.
Which reminded Tim…
“Alfred, I need a favor.”
“Unless it’s to help you into a bath and being fed by a spoon, I suggest such a proposal be kept silent,” said the butler shrewdly, side-eyeing the bedrester in his care.
“I have to contact my team.”
“Ah.” Alfred tidies up the area around Tim’s occupied cot since apparently Dick forgot a bowl or two of cereal the last time he’d been on guard duty. “I would like to remind that the Manor is not a prison despite the occasional circumstances.”
Sure as shit feels like it now. Tim doesn’t dare say that outloud however. He needs to devise a plan to be able to contact his team and let them know he isn’t bleeding to death in a gutter or a body bag in the morgue. Kon should be off-world another day and Bart wasn’t due back to the Tower until then too which left Raven, Gar, Cassie or Miguel to answer. Gar, Cassie and Rae would easily hold the fort down while he was laid up (even if he wanted to be gone right fucking now).
Bottom line was Alfred wasn’t going to help him this time, disciplining Tim in the way only Alfred could. So okay, he’s Red fucking Robin, right? Of course he could find a way to send a brief message to the team, give a little direction and update on his current situation. They wouldn’t be happy (neither am I) about it, but at least they wouldn’t have to worry about him getting killed on a solo mission.
Tim dozes again. He’s been sleeping a lot under this surveillance thing going on, Bruce’s doing, but he gets his exercise by roaming the cave when someone is down there watching him. For tonight there is only Alfred and, to his luck, Duke. They’ve talked, not about the situation, but other things, comic books and other common interests they knew they shared. An opportunity presents itself when the Wayne Manor’s personal butler finally ventures back upstairs for something. Tim turns his head so fast to face Duke that he actually gets whiplash and a little dizzy.
“Woah! Careful, man. You’re still recovering.”
He’s been lying down for too long, but he doesn’t snap at the other with the truth, can’t afford to lose his temper and an ally now. “Duke, I need your help.”
The dubious look he gets is understandable. He’d already tried escaping four times (six if the first two miserably failed attempts counted where he tripped over his own feet) so Duke nor any of the other members of the Bats who’ve seen his current state are going to jump at doing him a favor. Duke, however, is not Bruce or Dick or Jason, he can be manipulated much easier. Tim would feel bad about it if he wasn’t completely annoyed at being kept here.
And don’t judge him too harshly, okay? He does feel bad he’s just too mission-brained to care at the moment. Duke will forgive.
“I need to get a message to the Titans. They’ll worry I’ve gone AWOL and come looking.”
“You mean Superboy and Kid Flash?”
Tim nodded. “Wondergirl and the others probably too.”
“It’s nice they worry about you.”
Unlike some people, Tim doesn’t bitterly add and no, this little stunt doesn’t count. As soon as he’s able to get the fuck outta dodge he’s gone and they won’t come looking just like before. He’s pretty fucking done with playing the lab rat thank you very much.
“Yeah, that happens when you’re the only squishy human on the team.”
Duke laughs ; scoring points always helps, so does humor. The other is taking a quick scan around them, eyes focusing on the clock, then the Batcomputer, then Tim. “Okay,” he concedes,” okay. The others will be gone for another hour at least. You can use the computer, but be quick or Alfred will see.”
Tim wastes no time in hobbling over to the Batcomputer, taking the big seat as his own and immediately opens a private channel. He has only minutes before Alfred comes back to check up on them and rewrap Tim’s bandages.
This is Red Robin. ]
I am currently in Gotham. I am recovering from minor injury. Will be in contact again soon.
Protocol Omega 2. ]
Tim almost doesn’t want to end it there, could call out for help to bust out of the Batcave, but it’s more trouble than it’s worth. Without a video call there is still a high-level chance someone will come to Gotham asking for him.
“What’s ‘Protocol Omega 2’?”
Duke helps him back up and over to the medbay again, seeing the tired look in Tim’s eyes. He doesn’t answer at first, smiling secretively. “Go on without me.”
Somewhere in Titans Tower, Gar is on monitor duty, looking through news footage and all the information Red Robin has left. There are cases in need of updates, but other than that their team leader has done the rest. He really does wonder how Tim finds the time to do literally anything when all he seems to do is work. The answer he kind of knows, that Tim doesn’t remember to do certain things, you know, like eating regularly and sleeping. Part of the Titans new dynamic is to take care of each other, but with special emphasis on Tim, the only non-metahuman on the team currently. They even have a whole new protocol plan for anything involving Tim and an multitude of concerns. Ever since Red came back missing a spleen things have been different and not exactly in a good way.
Because Red, Tim, the very squishy human, has always been the kind of guy who’ll take a bullet for someone without a second thought. That instinct to protect has tipped the scales into actively suicidal, no regard for trying to live through a mission, willing to sacrifice his own life to complete the objective. It worries them all and for good reason.
A message breaks through Gar’s thoughts, beeping on the monitor is the Tower’s private line, something only active members have separated from an open channel they also have. Gar assumes it’s either Kon or Bart who have been gone for some time doing mentorship business with Superman and Flash respectively. Still he isn’t too surprised when it turns out to be Tim.
It’s the words the message contains that worries him.
“Hey Rae!” Gar calls out to his girlfriend, dread sitting heavy in his gut. “Rae, I need you to come here for a minute.”
She does, appearing with a grace he’s been in awe of for years. She wordlessly stares at the monitor screen, a frown making a home upon her lips, the same feeling of dread touching her expression. “Protocol Omega 2.”
“Not a good sign.”
“He said he is in Gotham.”
“Not better,” Gar mutters. “... should we call Dick?”
Rae doesn’t hesitate shaking her head in the negative. They had promised Red not to intervene with his personal problems pertaining to the Bats ; they would be breaking his trust in them if they contacted anyone outside of the team.
“We should tell the others. Minor injury could mean anything from a sprained ankle to bleeding out on the ground.”
“He managed to send a message.”
“Doesn’t mean he doesn’t need our help. You know he won’t ask directly since it’s Gotham. He’ll want to do it by himself so the Bats won’t be alerted he’s in town.”
Rae stays pensive for a moment, weighing their options. Ultimately Gar is right, Red is too stubborn to ask for help when he needs it. “Call Cassie. Gather everyone.”
When she begins to move away, Gar asks,” Where are you going?”
“To look for a way to locate him by his trackers.”
Mornings (which are really late afternoon in Wayne Manor thanks to nocturnal activities) have become a routine of breakfast and stretches. His leg is healing up fine, he’s able to rotate it with minimal difficulty and pain, but the stretching exercises help. His only problem really is how enthusiastic Dick is in trying to help him.
“There we go.”
Tim glares the first robin down, the hand on his leg seeping warmth through the soft cotton sweatpants he’s wearing. This is not welcome yet he has little say in the matter at the moment. Someone has to help lift his leg up and his choices are limited on who to accept assistance from. Having Jason sitting nearby and watching doesn’t help.
“You’re getting better every day.” And no, Dick’s praise nor concerns mean nothing, it’s all hot air. Tim doesn’t care what the fuck he thinks.
“You mean soon I’ll be out of here,” he can’t help saying. It’s spit bitterly from his lips, like venom, poison trapped inside each word.
Dick’s face contorts into one of sadness and disappointment. Good, Tim thinks even at the harsh clench of his heart. Know that I’m not staying and playing your stupid little game longer than I have to.
“That’s funny,” Jason cuts in, both Dick and Tim’s heads turning to give him due attention. If Tim wasn’t so keenly aware of his piercing gaze on them, he would have forgotten the guy was there at all. “Considering it’s really up to B when ya walk out o’ here. And I’m gettin’ that feelin’, the one that says ya ain’t gonna go nowhere soon.”
“I don’t have to do anything.”
“We follow the rules, Tim,” Dick reminds with a gentle hand rubbing at a bony ankle. The motion would feel nice if Tim didn’t feel like jumping the hell outta his own damn skin.
After strategically pulling his leg back to him (Dick’s fingers slipping over his skin as he does and it pulls a shiver across his spine so intense he thinks he might whimper) Jason is moving over, sitting next to Dick like he’s some kind of boulder that can prevent Tim from running away from them. Good luck assholes, he’s been gone for a long time now, and he ain’t coming back just because you all feel bad suddenly for what happened.
“I’m not one of the Bats anymore.”
“What the fuck?” Jason’s growl is downright pissed. “Who the fuck said that?”
“You did.” Tim glares with an air of accusation. “And Damian. And Dick.”
“I never said that,” Dick quickly jumps in. “I only wanted -”
“- me gone. Just like Damian. Just like Jason.”
Jason is watching him critically, burning holes into his defenses. He looks like he wants to say something, but Dick is talking a mile a minute, about forgiveness and other shit. Lies, all of them. Tim knows his place now, knows it isn’t here anymore, probably never was to begin with.
“Ya know,” cuts into the rambling from the eldest, drawing attention back to Jason who has been staring Tim down the whole time,” I used to hate ya.”
“Not now, Dickie. Lemme talk. I ain’t here to lie to ya. I did bad, real bad. Ya were just a kid tryin’ to do somethin’ right and I was a guy crawlin’ outta a grave fresh from the supermarket o’ dead. My head ain’t right, then or even now sometimes. I always did ya in, always comin’ after ya even when ya did good to me.”
Tim is choking up a bit because Jason is honestly sincere, he can hear and believe it because Jason doesn’t bullshit the way most people do. He’s honest, Gotham honest in that brazen way you learn to be when you’ve lived on the streets for a long time.
But Jason isn’t done, still talking, still staring at Tim with eyes that speak regret.
“I shoulda done right by ya. I shoulda thanked ya for savin’ my sorry ass after throwin’ it back into the fire time and time again. I blamed ya for things that weren’t ya fault. I shoulda let ya go when ya didn’t want to be my Robin. I shoulda reached out when ya went AWOL, we all shoulda came runnin’ to find ya.”
Jason pauses, reaches a hand forward to press under one of Tim’s eyes where a tear has escaped as a gentle touch. It’s the medicine making me emotional. It’s the medicine…
“Ya don’t have to forgive us right now. Hell, I understand. But give us a chance to right the wrong, yeah? Give us a second chance to be there for ya.”
Dick is silent, also watching, as Tim fish-mouths his way around his speechlessness. A sob is trapped somewhere between chest and throat and Tim desperately tries to keep it back. Those words are everything he ever wanted to hear months ago, two fucking years ago. It hurts to hear them now. Too long, too late, too fucking bad. This is just peddling false hopes and dreams.
Tim ducks his head instead, so tired of looking weak infront of these two. After a moment he speaks quietly. “I want to go back to bed now.”
He misses the look passed between the two elder males, the clenching of Dick’s hands into fists and Jason’s sad shake of the head. They have a long way to go.
Kon is the last to get to Titans Tower for the emergency meeting. He’d literally just stepped down onto Earth soil in Smallville before he heard the pager in the bedroom go off. Clark had given him a little wave and a somewhat genuine smile not overwhelmed by awkwardness (they were getting better at that, at interacting despite that fact that Conner is, you know, a clone of Superman) and Kon had taken off. No rest for superheroes and all that. So when he walks into the main room to see everyone in a circle, Bart vibrating as he paces, Cassie’s grave expression and the absence of Tim, well, he can guess what this is all about.
“We lost our only human again?”
That at least gets a snort from Miguel who hands over a printed paper with words on it - oh, a message. A very not well-received message by anyone.
Kon glares down at the words as if that’ll change them. He’d use his heat vision if he thought it’d make them feel better seeing the words burning. “Protocol Omega 2 is not something we agreed on.”
“Doesn’t mean Red will listen,” sighed Miguel.
“Rae found us one of his trackers,” Cassie starts to explain, taking the leading role for now. “We need two sets of codes. Specifically yours and Bart’s for this one.”
All the trackers that had been persuaded (read as demanded) to be put in the newest version of the Red Robin suit had different two-set codes needed to activate them. The problem tended to be that Red hid them among the Tower like a game as his way of being stubborn about the whole thing. Good thing Kon and Bart knew Tim so well to be able to hide theirs better.
Speaking of Bart… “Hey man, you okay?”
Bart stops pacing, vibrating a little less, just enough to stem most of the blur. His face is not a happy one. “Sometimes he is so stupid I can’t even…!”
Kon has the nerve to grin at that. “You know our resident bird.”
Bart zips over to Raven, holding out his hand. “Time to go find him and bring him home.”
Tim naps longer than he means to. He awakens to a furry ball curled on his chest, constricting his ability to take deep breaths a tiny bit. He looks down, blinking away the sleep, to recognize Alfred the Cat dozing there. Tim looks left, then right, then back down again.
“... Damian isn’t going to like this.” The cat doesn’t stir. “Hey. I don’t want to get in trouble with your owner. Please move.” Tentatively poking the furred cheek only gets him a dirty look before going back to sleep. Okay then, the cat doesn’t care if Damian waltzes down here and sees this.
Tim sighs and resigns himself to being a kitty pillow. Petting the soft fur is actually nice and the warmth on his chest helps him not feel so alone. The cat is probably is the most welcoming thing so far about this whole experience which is in retrospect really sad. Of course the silence of the cave only amplifies the thoughts racing through his brain : of Jason’s confession, Dick’s hands from the stretch, of when and what Bruce will say once they finally have a heart to heart. This sucks, Tim is on the verge of trying to steal one of the bikes again and get the hell out of here. If it weren’t for the cat on his person then he’d probably be doing just that… oh, who is he trying to kid, of course he’d be hobbling over there and doing just that.
“After your previous sore attempts, I would think it prudent you stay in the cot, Drake.”
Tim does his best impression of a naughty kid caught with his hand in the cookie jar. “I wasn’t thinking about it.”
“The longing look you gave the vehicles tells me different,” sniffs the boy as he draws closer, inspecting Tim and the cat resting on his chest. “You have stolen my cat, I see.”
“Hey, hey. I didn’t do anything… I woke up and he was there.”
Damian stares at the cat for longer than necessary before huffing and taking a seat on the end of the cot by Tim’s feet. It’s an… unexpected action. Tim is wary of every movement, knows Damian isn’t above attacking him for any reason or none at all. He’s healing, but often tired and in no means equipped to handle any fighting at the moment. So he plays the waiting game, waits to see what Damian wants ; probably a fight or his cat or both.
“I’m going to leave as soon as I can,” he says after some silence. He expects that’s what Damian wants to hear, to know that his rival is leaving, isn’t going to try and wedge back into the Bat-fold anymore. What he gets is a cold glare as if he’s insulted the prickly boy.
“You will remain until Father deems it safe enough for you to venture again. You were reckless and inefficient in your methods. On top of that you did not call for backup in a situation where it was needed.”
Tim raises a brow, surprised. “I called after I needed it. And only because I couldn’t get back on my bike.” The Ducati sits innocently besides the Batmobile which is not comforting. “I didn’t mean to be such a bother, brat.” He says the last bit with more sass.
Damian, predictably, bristles. His mouth forms a sneer, signature indignation from the Batfamily’s own baby bat brat. The thirteen year old boy points an accusing finger right in the middle of Tim’s eyes, near poking. “You are a mess, Drake. Not only have you had no contact with the family in the last two years, you have become a liability to yourself and the rest of us.”
Oh, so this is what it’s about. Tim is seeing blood red when he finds the strength to push Damian forcibly off the cot, finding some satisfaction in the shocked squawk he hears. Alfred the Cat makes an annoyed sound as it is disturbed, jumping off Tim’s chest and meandering close to his owner. “If that’s what you’re so worried about, don’t be. I’m not a part of the Bats anymore. It’s done, you won. Take your stupid cat and leave me the hell alone.”
Damian sits up looking ruffled, face red and angry. It breaks into something different, lip wobbly as he scoops up his cat and runs out of the cave, passed Stephanie coming down the stairs -
Unbeta'd so any mistakes are my own. Point them out if you like so I can change them!
Next chapter primarily co-stars Stephanie Brown :)
Chapter 3: by your leave
“That’s not what I said.”
“Isn’t it?” He raises a brow at her. “You have my attention.”
Steph glares at him, unmoved by his antics. “I’m sorry, okay? I know you got the bad end after everything. I know you miss being Robin.”
He bristles, not able to stifle the reaction. “You think that’s all this is about? That it comes down to being petty about who is wearing the R, who gets to be Batman’s sidekick?”
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Tim stays quiet.
Stephanie sends one last look after Damian, a cut off hey trailing into silence. She continues her descent and looks at him, bright blues locked on his form sitting there. He should have known she would come to see him, would want to after so long. Tim isn’t ready for this conversation anymore than he is with anyone else.
“Hey,” she says and there is the jump of muscle in her jaw is a tell, the one that let’s him know she is angry with him,” heard you were around. I haven’t seen you in a long time.” It starts passive aggressive, but the closer she gets the more anger she appears to gather. “What is going on with you? Two years, Tim. I’ve heard nothing from you. What do you have to say for yourself?”
She stops at his bedside, hands on his hips. Her eyes are narrowed, leaning forward with that intimidation aura Bruce taught all the Bats. It’s not going to fucking work, Tim won’t give into her discontent just because it’s Steph ; someone he loved, someone he once wanted more from. He’s got a bone to pick too, okay? He’s allowed to be pissed, even at her, at all of them.
“You cut your hair,” he says instead, nonchalant.
“Don’t do this. Don’t play games right now. I’m being serious.”
“About what? That I haven’t come around for a tea party? Not interested.”
The gritting of teeth is the first sign of frustration, the accusing finger point the second. “This isn’t time for jokes. Dick just told me you almost died. And you’re going to do this right now.” Her expression breaks and she falls into one of the unoccupied chairs by his bed, shoulders slumping. “I would have never forgiven you if you died and I never got to see you alive again.”
Tim… hurts at that. He can’t lie to himself and say she still doesn’t have a certain hold on him, the one that makes him want to gravitate closer, the one that makes him want to hug and hold her. But she isn’t his like that anymore, they aren’t like that.
“It doesn’t matter,” is what slips from his mouth,” I’m not staying.”
“Not stay - you can’t keep running.”
That strikes a nerve. Who the fuck is running? What about who pushed him away and who wanted him gone, and who seek him out for the last two fucking years. No, he’s not being a whiny asshole. He’s right, he’s justified, he did everything he could’ve done in the beginning and look where that landed him : knocked out on his ass outside the cool kid club.
“I’m not running. I’m done.” Said plain, said simple. Said like the fact it is.
“I’m not -” Steph gets choked off of her words when she gets emotional. Tim can see it in the shine of her eyes, the clenching of her fists. If she punches him (not someone to mess with, he remembers that clearly) he’ll take it, for her, because he loved her. But coming back to the Manor, to the Bats will not and cannot happen. He’ll just be broken apart all over again. “I’m not just going to watch you walk right out of here and not see you for another two years!”
The girl he loved watches the dullness of his eyes observing her, clinical in the way you access a threat. Tim doesn’t look at her the same way he used to. “I’m not coming back.”
The statement is met with a hard, determined look. “I’m not letting you go without a fight.”
A sigh, because yes, Tim had expected as much. There is no smile when he says,” Good to know you haven’t changed at all.”
She rolls her eyes, places her hands back onto her hips. At least she can find some kind of humor in this exchange even if it’s mostly out of exasperation. “Tim.”
“I swear you are more stubborn than Bruce sometimes.”
Tim knows he can be a stubborn asshole. The Titans, especially Kon, like to remind him of it all the time. Thinking of the team puts him on a different train of thought, wondering if they got the message, wondering what they were thinking, wondering how quick they would be at formulating a plan to come and find him. The trackers, he realizes with sharp remembrance. All the medicine and emotional trauma has made him forget about the damn trackers they made him put in the newly designed Red Robin suit. He mentally curses himself for not taking that into account. Either way, when Tim wasn’t in contact a day ago, they would’ve been alarmed. If he’s lucky they’ll have trouble finding the locating devices around the tower and give him some more time to break the hell out of here to avoid any unnecessary confrontation ; he wouldn’t put it passed Bruce to take out the kryptonite if Kon comes busting into the batcave unannounced.
“Are you even listening?”
That question is also something he’s heard before. Tim, who often gets distracted by his own thoughts, looks up from his hands to Stephanie’s concerned face. He’s really sick and tired of the worrying, of seeing everyone put on the face of caring family and friends. This isn’t what he wants anymore (a lie, he does, but it doesn’t feel sincere, doesn’t feel like anything more than a show) and all he really needs is to go back to the Perch with his team then figure out what to do about the next case, the next mission, the next big bad.
“You totally weren’t.” Steph huffs, exaggerated pouting following the motion of her lips.
“I can guess what you said instead.”
“I bet you said : go and be a man, or whatever. See if I care.”
“Hey! I don’t sound like that at all.”
“So I was right?”
“... kind of.” She leans her upper body forward, resting on her crossed arms placed on the bed. She’s closer to him now, can count the lines on his face, can see the stress on his brow. “You look older. More mature.”
“So I really was right?”
“Stop that. Stop ignoring what I say.”
Tim makes a noise crossed between a sigh and a groan. He pushes at the pillow behind him, fluffing it up then sitting back again. “I’m not ignoring you.”
“That’s not what I said.”
“Isn’t it?” He raises a brow at her. “You have my attention.”
Steph glares at him, unmoved by his antics. “I’m sorry, okay? I know you got the bad end after everything. I know you miss being Robin.”
He bristles, not able to stifle the reaction. “You think that’s all this is about? That it comes down to being petty about who is wearing the R, who gets to be Batman’s sidekick?” Steph blinks as if she really is confused, as if she really doesn’t understand the bomb ticking behind his eyelids filled to the brim with red hot, justified rage. The short fuse has just been lit by a flame too thick to smother in time. “What about Bruce being dead? What about everything falling apart? What about my fucking bestfriends having died? My fucking parents, Steph!”
“Tim I -”
“And you! You conspiring with Bruce. Nearly getting us both killed, hiring Scarab, trying to test me? You call that help? You call that trustworthy? Could have killed me and an innocent person by getting us blown up. You stabbed me in the back. Why the hell would I trust you with anything now? You never helped me before, you didn’t help me when I believed Bruce was alive.” He’s nearly panting with exhaustion after that outburst. He isn’t done, there’s more to say yet all the energy is drained from his being. He hadn’t wanted to do this, had wanted to avoid it so desperately the moment he woke up in the damn cave to begin with.
“Tim… I’m sorry. I never meant to hurt you. You have to believe that. No one wanted to hurt you. I… I wasn’t thinking when I said that. You’re right, there’s more to it.”
“I don’t have to believe anything,” he says quietly, decisively.
Stephanie sits back up in the seat she occupies, her eyes never leaving him. She wants to make this better, but sees the tired set of his indigo blues and the slouch in his posture : he looks ready to nod off again. She resigns herself to keeping quiet, letting him fall under the spell of slumber once again.
Despite what he’s said, she doesn’t believe Tim will be going anywhere.
That night, just before patrol, Bruce is downstairs looking over Tim’s vitals and charts. “Your leg looks better. The brace should come off in the next day or two.”
“How about now?”
Tim gets a look for his trouble. “Alfred says your eating habits are still lacking.”
“I eat,” is the huffed reply. “I don’t need everyone up my ass all the time.”
“Language.” Bruce ignores the eyeroll, sets the charts down and sits on the edge of the bed by Tim’s feet. A large hand encircles an ankle (still too bony and fragile-looking to the man’s increasing displeasure) and squeezes in comfort and for attention. “We need to talk.”
A horrible, spiralling feeling hits Tim in the pit of his stomach so fast he might actually throw up. “No. No we really don’t, B.”
“You’ve been gone two years. I’ve given you a couple of days to adjust -”
Tim cuts the sentence off to call it like he sees it. “You mean to let me fester in my own turmoil under your disappointment.”
There’s a noise caught between a scoff and a sigh. “I’m not disappointed, Tim. I’m worried.”
“Is this about my abilities as a vigilante? Because I’m doing fine, Bruce. I’m leading the Titans, I’m not usually that clumsy it was just a bad night. They happen.”
Tim knows his paranoia is showing with the frantic way he’s trying to pull away from this conversation that he fucking does not want to have. He can’t let himself be weak anymore, too afraid of what Bruce will think, of what Bruce will do if he finds Tim lacking. If he thinks Tim is too compromised to wear the cape or fight the good fight. If he’ll make Tim give it up. Just like dad.
Half-narrowed eyes look up, see Bruce’s expression is soft, truly concerned. “What happened? What happened between the time I was gone and now. How did you lose your spleen?”
“Ra’s,” he admits with a shrug. “Had to find proof. Had to find a way to get you back.”
The grimace is expected. “Ra’s is not a foe to play games with.”
“And yet he initiates them all the time. He likes them. Likes you. Likes… uh, me.”
That earns a darker look. “There will be no more of that.”
Tim stays quiet. He appreciates Bruce’s concern like a thorn in the side or a sword to his neck. He can handle Ra’s, he’s blown up plenty of bases to prove he can.
“I’ll have to pay him a visit.”
“He didn’t take my spleen.” At Bruce’s imploring look, he sighs. “The Council of Spiders did. Ra’s was helping me all the up until… he wasn’t.”
“Dick told me he kicked you out of a building’s window.”
Bruce grunts, dissatisfied. “From the top, Tim.”
“It really isn’t necessary.”
Staring down people is funny when you’re a Bat… unless it’s with, you know, the fucking Batman who has the guinness book of world record bat-staring under his belt.
Just then the night crew comes waddling down the stairs for preparation for tonight. Dick is talking loudly to Damian being steadfast ignored with Steph and Jason laughing right behind the two. It’s the biggest break Tim has gotten since he arrived. Bruce doesn’t take his eyes off Tim or vice versus even as the four’s feet touch the cave floor and pause obviously at the scene awaiting them.
“Uh,” Steph breaks first,” are we interrupting something.”
“No,” Tim speaks loud and pointed.
Bruce grunts, finally relents and Tim can breathe a little easier when those piercing eyes aren’t trying to dissect his soul. “Suit up. We leave in fifteen.” Everyone moves quickly to comply, but Bruce isn’t quite done yet. He squeezes Tim’s ankle again for a moment. “This will continue when I get back.”
It’s foreboding and possibly untrue. Bruce will be wiped out by the time he comes back from patrol, but there truth of the situation is still there : this talk is happening and happening soon. The panic that stirs in Tim is unbelievably alarming because it shouldn’t affect him anymore, he isn’t a part of the Bats yet his respect for Bruce, his yearning for Bruce’s praise is still there and prominent in their interactions.
He watches them stretch and talk, ignores any further conversation directed at him and pointedly looks away when the time nears for the night crew to head out. Bruce’s words loom over his head like a death sentence.
I’ve spent enough time here, he decides.
He’s not running away. He’s not.
Fresh air tastes like freedom.
The Ducati is running smooth (Jason’s handiwork no doubt, he watched the man fix it afterall) and the feel of the ride is already easing away all tension in his body from the time spent under Bat surveillance. Getting his suit on had been the hardest part considering it took the longest and even without the brace his leg twinges in pain from one moment to the next without warning. He’s just glad he got lucky with timing, that everyone had left for patrol, Alfred was upstairs occupied and Duke took a bathroom break. He’ll be bombarded with messages as soon as possible, but Tim is sure it’ll die down as soon as it becomes too much effort and everything will go back to the way it was.
Tim is on his way to the secret safehouse none of the Bats are privy to when a blur starts running alongside him and - “Kid Flash?”
A tap to the ear indicates his communicator is off so he switches it on. “Hey. The team is not happy with you right now and I gotta say Red, I am not a fan of the disappearing act.”
They can’t see Tim roll his eyes, but surely can predict it. “Not my idea either.”
“So where have you been?”
Tim’s brooding grimace sets Bart a little on edge. “With the Bats.”
“Holy shit, dude.”
“You two almost here yet?” Kon’s voice comes through the comms and Tim is way too relieved at that.
“On route. One minute arrival. Gonna park this in and then we’re gone.”
Bart and Tim slow down the closer they get to the safehouse, Kon waiting with crossed arms in his Superboy persona. “The hell, Tim? Protocol Omega 2 is not something we agreed on.”
“Are you talking to them again?” Bart asks and genuinely sounds unhappy about it. “Or have you finally lost it and this is another cry for help.”
“I’m being serious here.”
“Focus,” Kon snaps his fingers.
“I got injured on an intel mission,” Tim reports like he knows they want, voice methodic,” and I had to call for back up. I’ve been laid up in the Batcave for a few days. I got out. End of story.”
“They got into your head.”
Kon isn’t wrong. He can see it in the tense line of Tim’s shoulders, the hard frown, the jittery behavior and desire to get the hell outta Gotham. Tim wants to go to the Perch and pretend that he hadn’t just fucked up his two year silence with anyone outside the Titans.
“No, they didn’t,” Tim says stubbornly as the garage opens up and he walks in the Ducati. He’s gonna really hate having to leave it here for now. “I’m ready to go.”
Tim sends them both a deadpanned look.
Kon wastes no more time. After the garage door is shut, he snakes an arm around Bart and Tim’s waists before shooting up in the air for a quick fly back to Titans Tower. Tim watches the dark landscape below slowly disappear, the stranglehold of the city gradually lessening the farther away they become. It’s both relieving and disappointing. Tim almost wishes things could go a bit differently, a bit better than what they are. Oh well, he’s used to it.
Bye, bye, Gotham.
“So you are alive!” Miguel greets as soon as the three are in sight. “You had everyone shitting their pants, Red. I think Cassie was actually going to hunt you down.”
“We were worried,” Gar pitches in and places a hand on Tim’s shoulder. He glances at Bart and Kon, raising a brow. “Care to enlighten us on what was going on that you tried to pull a Protocol Omega 2?”
“Don’t say it like that,” Bart groans,” don’t make it a thing. It’s not a thing!”
“We are definitely not making it a thing,” Kon agrees with a pointed glare down at Tim. “We already had this discussion. It’s out the window.”
“It’s made for in the case that I am gone. That’s practical.”
“Don’t you talk,” Bart hisses and pokes Tim in the cheek with a finger,” Mr. Disappear-Without-Even-A-Hey-I’m-Back-With-The-Bats.”
“You’re talking to Dick again?” Gar seems surprised and Rae drifts closer, curious.
“No.” Tim sighs and flips off the cowl so they can see the tired, annoyed glaze of his eyes. He speaks with no nonsense, no secret emotion, no lie. He’s not going back, it’s clear in his expression. “Just a fluke. Needed backup and there wasn’t much time. It’s fine.”
Cassie crosses her arms, tone expectant,” Injuries?”
Tim wants to roll his eyes, but he knows she’s serious and they will all game up on him and take him down to medical if he isn’t going to be forthcoming or honest. “I hurt two ribs, dislocated my shoulder and damaged my leg. I just took the leg brace off and everything else is healing, okay? I’ll try to take it easy.”
Gar snorts. “Take it easy, he says.”
“I’m still mad about that message,” Bart reminds. He doesn’t look like he’s willing to let it go.
Tim isn’t in the mood to argue anymore today. He just wants to go to his Perch and get back to regular ol’ Red Robin routine, the one without the Bats breathing down his neck. Gar must see it in his face because his smile is softer, the hand on his shoulder squeezing more gently to gain his attention. There’s more to be said, more to explain, but he’s drained from the mayhem he’s just undergone.
“I think it’s late and maybe we should pop in a movie. We never got to finish the Terminator series like we promised.”
“Rocky is still better,” Miguel complains.
“I’ll get the drinks and snacks,” Raven offers before disappearing into their little kitchen area. If they are lucky there will be enough for everyone and Bart’s speedster stomach to get through the next hour.
Garfield departs with Miguel to argue their preferred movie, leaving Tim at the mercy of Cassie, Kon and Bart who are looking at him with questioning faces. His audible sigh tells them he really would like to leave the interrogation until later. Kon throws an arm over his shoulders and steers him towards the couch, the other two in tow. He gets squashed between Cassie and Kon with Bart lying across all their laps and whining about needing to be fed. It feels normal, it feels like home.
Only 6 pages this time. I've been sick so it took longer than necessary, sorry if it's not the best written chapter of the bunch.
Chapter 4: the aftermath of escape
[ Dick sent : you left. come back. ]
[ Dick sent : tim pls answer me ]
[ Dick sent : i want to talk. we should really talk. ]
[ Dick sent : pls answer ]
[ Dick sent : remember that time we played rooftop tag and you almost fell into a dumpster? ]
[ Dick sent : i never forget how much fun being with you is ]
[ Dick sent : i didn’t mean to scare you off. we’re all worried. pls come back and talk to us. ]
[ Dick sent : at least talk to me ]
[ Dick sent : i miss you like crazy ]
[ Dick sent : come home tim ]
I was short two pages last chapter so take on with two extra pages to make up for it!
Tim is gone.
Tim is gone, Tim is gone, Tim is gone.
Dick is pacing because what the fuck Timmy, why now? Why couldn’t you stay? Why wouldn’t you stay? He’s part worried and other part pissed off. Tim isn’t exactly healed and walking out of here means straining his already injured body.
“He’s probably gone back to Titans Tower,” Jason’s voice breaks through Dick’s inner monologue. “He’ll be safe there, at least.”
“I don’t like it,” is Dick’s immediate response. He wants Tim here, wants him back.
Bruce has been oddly silent since they’ve gotten back, not a good sign. He hasn’t shown support in any direction and Dick is standing here ready to pull his hair out in frustration. Damian’s been hovering by the medbay on the cot Tim had occupied, absently petting Alfred the Cat with Titus sitting by his dangling feet. The kid has had a guilty expression since they’d heard the news of Tim’s departure. Poor Duke had to be hauled away by Alfred to stop his slew of apologies and assurances, everyone is feeling punched right in the gut.
“He said he wasn’t going to stay,” Stephanie says quietly. “Maybe we were pushin’ it.”
Dick’s fists are clenched hard, shaking. They’d finally gotten Tim to come back for a second, he was trying to put things right and Tim just ran. Deciding he’s had enough, Dick moves back towards his motorcycle.
“Where are you going?” Steph asks.
“To get Tim back. He can’t just leave.”
“He can,” Jason cuts in and when did he get close enough to grab Dick’s arm? “If ya go marchin’ over there and demand he come back, he’ll just push back harder. This isn’t the way we gotta do this. If ya want him to come back he’s gotta choose to do it.”
“He’s still hurt -”
“Barely. His team will take care of him.” Jason sighs, squeezes the bicep in his hand. “I know how ya feel, Dickie. But we fucked up. We fucked up real bad.”
No one even bothers to deny. It’s become abundantly clear that a load has been weighing on Red Robin’s shoulders, too heavy to just shrug off. Tim’s reactions to all of them was beyond deflective, beyond avoidance. It’s the closest thing to hate without being hate Dick’s ever seen. What it comes down to is that Tim doesn’t want to be a part of the Bats anymore.
And that hurts something fierce, so piercing Dick can barely breathe with the way it clouds his lungs.
It’s not in him to do nothing, so Dick turns away and goes into the shower area, fumbling in his bag for his phone. A quick series of texts is sent, a barrage of questions and hopes for an answer back. At least it’s something even if it’s not exactly what he wants to do right now. He knows in the back of his head that Jason is right, that the Titans will take care of Tim, that the other former Robin had been shaking out of his own skin while here.
“Houndin’ him isn’t gonna help either,” is Jason’s snort over his shoulder. Dick sends the other a wry smile, standing from his crouched position with his phone, unfurling like Gollum over the ring of Mordor. He still holds the cellular device close, waiting for a response he knows he likely won’t get. “We need a game plan, Dickie. Or else this’ll just get worse.”
“I thought bringing him back was the plan.”
“Not against his will,” Jason huffs and his fingers are twitchy, like he needs a cigarette.
“You want to go after him too,” Dick accuses. “You’re standing there telling me not to go and you’re body is screaming to go haul him back here too.”
“I didn’t say I didn’t want to. I just said it’s not a good idea.”
Dick runs a hand through his hair, effectively mushing it up. He has half a mind to go anyway, just to knock on the doors to the Tower and tell Tim he’s not going to just run away this time, that Dick isn’t going to just lie here and let him go again. The Titans was something he’d help create, he still had allies, still had eyes inside. With a snap of his fingers, Dick decides on a different strategy.
“I’ll call Gar. He’ll give me a check in if I ask.”
Jason raises a brow,” You sure about that?”
And Dick is mildly insulted. “Why wouldn’t he? We’re friends and he’d know I’m concerned for Tim.”
“I’m just sayin’. They want to protect Tim. Tim doesn’t want contact with us. You put the pieces together.”
Dick pauses at that. Could that be true? Only one way to find out.
He pushes passed Jason to nab one of the mini-computers in the cave. He’s still in his Nightwing uniform when he makes his way up the stairs and into the Manor, ignoring the golden rule of no vigilante equipment in the home. He takes cover in his room, closing the door for privacy as he settles the laptop on his cluttered desk and connects the untraceable call. It takes a minute for the transmitted feed to finally pop up, but there is Gar’s face at his usual post on monitor duty. The friendly smile he expects is strained, something like suspicion and caution reflected in the eyes of his former teammate.
“Hey,” Beast Boy greets slowly. “What’s up? It’s been awhile.”
Had it? Dick didn’t really know. He usually called saw Vic and Gar every month for an impromptu poker night with Wally, Roy and Garth. It only dawned on him seconds later that it’d been awhile since he’d called the Tower personally.
“Checking in. I have a favor to ask.”
Garfield sighs, and looks around quickly, accessing who could be listening in, and pinches the bridge of his nose. “Look, I know you want to ask about Red Robin.”
Dick nods. He thinks Gar is about to help him. He thinks the other just doesn’t want to get caught. Dick is proven wrong.
“I can’t help you.”
“What?” Dick has to have heard wrong. He has to.
“The fact that you’re asking me should mean he doesn’t want you to know.”
He pulls a complicated face. “I just want to know if he’s okay.”
Gar’s smile is more apologetic this time. “I promised I wouldn’t. You know he’ll be taken care of here, but as far as giving you any inside information, I simply can’t. Don’t ask me.”
“He won’t talk to me,” Dick begins.
“I know. His reasons. That’s between you and him and the team has decided not to meddle in his Bat affairs.”
“So you don’t care? You’re not going to help me?”
“I’m helping Tim.” Gar’s tone becomes more firm, eyes staring at his friend harder. “He’s been through a lot and the last thing I’m gonna do is serve him up to you.”
“I’m not trying to hurt him,” Dick says defensively. He’s not. He doesn’t want to hurt Tim anymore than what’s already been done. They both bled for a time. Now Dick wants them both to heal.
“I’m sorry, Dick.”
Gar opens his mouth as if to say something more, closes it then looks over his shoulder, thinking better of his words, looks at Dick again to nod and ends the video call without a goodbye.
He falls back on his butt on the bed, gobsmacked. He doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry, be angry or sad. Jason had been right. There was nothing they could do to just worm their way through, to contact Tim without shoving themselves into Titans Tower by force.
Dick doesn’t know what to do.
Damian finds him the next morning when he doesn’t come down for breakfast. Dick looks like he hasn’t slept, eyes red-rimmed and staring at his phone sat by his pillow while he lies there pathetically. He’s had too much time to think, too many thoughts of how things went wrong. He’s frustrated with everything that has transpired since Tim called for backup that night.
“Grayson?” No answer. Damian feels bad too. He crawls into Dick’s bed and curls into the older’s chest. “I regret what I did.”
“What did you do?” Dick’s voice is muffled due to the crying.
“I drove Drake away. I tortured him since the moment I came here.” Damian’s breath hitches. He’s become increasingly more empathetic the longer he’s been at Wayne Manor. Dick helped him understand emotions, helped him feel emotions. Slowly he’s come to terms with his unsavory behavior towards Drake. He had always viewed Drake as a rival which meant he respected the older boy. However, his actions were harsh, had driven away someone who belonged here with them, with the family.
“Damian,” Dick cooes and squeezes the boy in his arms,” it’s not just you. Everything was falling apart. We were all tearing ourselves apart.”
“He won’t come back,” Damian whispered into Dick’s chest. His voice sounded crushed, sounded just as despairing as Dick felt.
It’s not a statement any of the Batfamily want to believe is true. Two years have gone by and they have allowed this distance to burn the bridge that had carried them to Tim. Dick doesn’t believe this is the end, doesn’t want it to be. It’s not within him to let Tim go, needing to bring him back, an urgency there he’d can’t quite explain.
He’s both proud and sad to see Damian agrees.
Jason had said something yesterday about forming a game plan. Maybe that was it, if he got everyone on board they still held a chance at winning Tim back, about righting things.
“We’ll get him back,” Dick says for assurance to both the boy in his arms and himself. He has to believe that. He can’t bare the thought that he’s already lost the chance. “Whatever it takes. We’ve got to bring this family back together the way it’s supposed to be.”
“Drake is stubborn,” is huffed against his shirt.
“Yeah, but that’s partly what makes him still a Bat. The stubbornness.”
Damian snorts. “Like you, Grayson.”
“Nothing wrong with a little determination put to good use.”
“Now you sound like Todd.”
“Maybe we have to start thinking like him.”
Damian pulls back and sits up at that, brows furrowed. “Are you ill?”
“No,” Dick laughs and sits up slowly to match his companion’s posture. “I’m being serious.”
“What has Todd said that is so enlightening?”
Damian’s skepticism is met with a patient smile. “He said we need a plan to get Tim back and I’m thinking he’s right.”
“Todd’s version of a plan generally involves explosives.”
“Not this time,” Dick assures him. “He doesn’t want to scare Tim away anymore either.”
Damian pouts, not convinced. “Then what? If we storm the Titans they’ll just fight back and make our situation worse. Getting to Tim will take more than force.”
“Now you’re thinking with your head. You’re learning!”
“Don’t test me, Grayson.”
“Right then.” Dick stands up from the bed, scrubbing at his eyes gingerly and swipes his phone. He sends a group text to every Bat needed for attendance to an emergency family meeting. That plan is going to be made and put into action. “Get ready for visitors.”
Tim wakes feeling sore. His muscles are screaming with agony from the tiniest movement, making him immediately regret waking up at all. He finds the courage to open his eyes and survey his surroundings, Bat-training spiking anxiety along his spine until deemed safe. He’s warm, it’s the first thing he notices, and cocooned by bodies, Bart’s and Kon’s bodies. The smallest of their group is on Tim’s left, curled into a ball, head buried under his chin. Kon is on his right, spooning him from behind, an arm draped over his waist and face close enough Tim can feel the other’s nose pressing against his neck.
He sighs, both exasperated and fond. Oddly enough he is content despite the physical pain. They must have moved him up to his Perch after he fell asleep during the movie last night, wrapping him in their embrace after dragging the blanket over them all. He could lie here, he could not get up, he could pretend there isn’t work to be done.
But he’s Red Robin, not your average type of guy. Vigilante justice doesn’t take vacations.
He starts by removing Kon’s arm as carefully as he can, squinting against the dull light shining through a slither in his blackout curtains. Next he sits up, ignoring the pain throbbing through his body and proceeds to quietly maneuver around his friends. Kon is still lightly snoring which is good considering he’s the main worry ; superhuman senses can be a bummer when they alert a person you don’t want them to. Tim shimmies to the edge of the bed, feet touching down on plush carpet. He’s gathering the strength to stand, maybe he’ll take a shower, maybe he’ll sit under the spray and take the bliss the hot water will provide for a time.
A foot gently brushes against his back and, oh, they’d dressed him in sleep wear, how kind of his friends. “Get back here.”
It’s surprisingly Bart instead of Kon. Tim turns his head enough to glance at the other’s sleepy eyes watching him. He can’t help smiling, Bart always looked cute in the morning while trying to fight off sleep. “Need a shower. I stink.”
“But it’s cold without you in the middle.”
Tim rolls his eyes at the whining, He reaches out to wrap a hand around Bart’s ankle, the one periodically brushing up against the loose tank top he has on. “Move closer to Kon. I’ll be back once I’m done. You’re such a baby in the mornings.”
Bart sticks out his tongue, but does as suggested, snuffling into Kon’s chest. Tim takes his time looking at them for a moment, blesses the fact that these are his bestfriends (he won’t lose them again, they won’t walk away from him if they can help it). Eventually he stands and makes his way to the bathroom with a little difficulty, stripping down and turning on the shower spray. He sits on the tub bottom, arms crossing to rest on the edge and pillows his head there while the warm water beats down and slides against his bare skin. It’s taking away some of the pain and aches, but he’ll probably pop some pain meds into his system for good measure. The Titans will not let him work in peace if they see he is in pain and not taking care of himself.
He takes this moment to think.
He thinks about mission reports, new training exercises to try with the team. He thinks of the silly arguments about movie selections being had last night, can still hear Miguel’s haughty tone about Gar’s taste in action flicks. He thinks of his Ducati back at his Gotham safehouse sitting pretty and fixed up. He thinks of Jason putting in the work to fix it, he thinks of Dick helping him with his stretching exercises -
And no, no, no. Bad line of thinking. He doesn’t want to go back down that memory lane ever again. It was a fluke, a little impromptu visit he hadn’t wanted and will not repeat. He wouldn’t need to ask for help a second time, not if he could help it.
Tim leaves the shower feeling better, leg giving him some trouble, but manages to wrap a towel around his waist and venture back out. Kon is up and Bart is missing, the latter probably finding something that counts as breakfast for them all.
Kon yawns. “Mornin’. Bart went to get food. He said breakfast in bed is a must.”
“Not really breakfast in bed if you have to leave the bed,” Tim teases.
Kon shrugs and runs a hand through his hair, observing Tim, probably using x-ray vision to conduct a quick medical exam. “Your leg.”
“Still hurts. I don’t think I’ll need the brace anymore.”
Kon gives him a ‘you think so, huh?’ kind of look and Tim knows that brace will be on him by the end of the day. Okay, he can deal another day or two with the brace so long as no one takes his laptop away. See, he’s an adult, he can compromise.
Tim spots his phone lighting up on his desk and figures it’s about time he’s texted Duke an apology for bailing ; he hadn’t wanted to get him in trouble with Bruce, afterall. Looking at his phone appears to be a mistake because the moment he does, he comes face to face with too many messages, many of which are addressed from Dick.
Not a good sign. He’s actually afraid to look.
“Something wrong?” Kon is giving him a curious look, must see the stress lines on his forehead from staring down at his phone screen in frozen apprehension.
“A lot of messages,” he admits and walks over to sit on the bed.
“Well, you did up and disappear.”
“Whose side are you on?” It’s a joke, really, but the serious face Kon pulls is not.
“Yours. But I think we both could have predicted this. I mean - they can be clingy when they want to be. Especially Batman.”
And Dick, is unsaid and held in the air between them.
Tim sighs and bites the bullet, putting in his pin to unlock the avalanche of hell awaiting him. It’s mildly tame with a progression of desperation the more he uncovers. Timestamps show that Dick has been messaging him throughout the night, stopping at ten this morning.
Dick sent : you left. come back. ]
Dick sent : tim pls answer me ]
Dick sent : i want to talk. we should really talk. ]
Dick sent : pls answer ]
Dick sent : remember that time we played rooftop tag and you almost fell into a dumpster? ]
Dick sent : i never forget how much fun being with you is ]
Dick sent : i didn’t mean to scare you off. we’re all worried. pls come back and talk to us. ]
Dick sent : at least talk to me ]
Dick sent : i miss you like crazy ]
Dick sent : come home tim ]
It goes on and on like that. A tightness in Tim’s chest forms and he squeezes his eyes shut against the onslaught of emotion beginning to overwhelm him. A hand takes away the phone gently, but he still can’t open his eyes. This is what he’d been trying to avoid, this is what the distance was meant to prevent, this what the walls were for.
He recognizes Kon’s arms pulling him into a comforting embrace. It lessens the hurt, having someone to turn to is all he ever really wanted, someone Dick used to be for him. Now he has the Titans, he has his friends, loyalty of the team. He can survive like this, he’s convinced himself, he doesn’t need the Bats anymore.
See, he’s an adult, he can compromise, he can adapt.
“Woah,” is Bart’s voice,” I was gone for only twenty minutes.”
There must be a silent conversation going on because Tim doesn’t hear anything else being said for a little bit. Eventually the bed dips with Bart’s new weight, an extra pair of arms joining Kon’s. They stay like that until Tim coughs and nudges them both lighty. The smell of food rouses him enough to want more than a really good hug.
“Kon said something about breakfast in bed?”
“I thought it’d be a good idea.” Bart speeds over to hot plates of food, settling each of them with one to call their own.
Tim’s mouth waters at the smell of bacon, eggs, toast and sausage. Bart must have been taking cooking lessons from Iris and Wally again because it also tastes like heaven. Tim moans at the first and fourth bite, didn’t notice he hadn’t really eaten anything last night or the night before despite urging from those around him at those times. Bart is beaming bright, radiating pride and warmth, something that helps Tim forget his sorrows and woes.
“So,” Kon says conversationally. “That brace.”
“Are we really going to argue about this.”
Kon uses his fork to point. “No, actually. You’re wearing it until your leg is better.”
“It’s still bad? He was riding the bike fine.” Bart tilts his head while speaking glancing between his two bestfriends. “Scratch that. Let’s do a medical exam to be sure.”
“I already had one,” Tim stubbornly pushes back at the suggestion.
“The team could have a vote,” Kon taunts.
Tim knows exactly how that will go. He sighs,” Fine. We can do a stupid medical exam.”
Bart nudges Tim with an elbow, smiling. They all care and love him, want him to be taken care of, Tim knows, Tim appreciates, Tim feels wanted here.
Duke is still jittery since last night’s failure at keeping Tim from escaping. He’s relatively new to all of this, getting used to the ins and outs of vigilante life while dealing with this mix-matched family he’s becoming fond of. Tim has been astray for most of his stay, minimal contact through texts and random meet ups to hang when he’s in Gotham. Duke hadn’t realized until now that Tim never ventured to the Manor, had always lured Duke out for a good time, had asked about the family with little personal air. Duke hadn’t even realized Tim wasn’t talking to anyone else in the Batfamily until a couple nights ago when he’d shown up drugged and battered in the batcave.
The text on his phone from Dick must be about it. For one, it literally just happened, and two, this is the first time he’s ever been invited to one. Duke stares at his phone, wondering if he can skip. He’s still feeling awful about everything, had seen everyone’s faces fall the moment he’d put the call in. They’d wanted Tim to stay, that much was clear.
Dick sent : Family Meeting @ 8pm. Attendance mandatory. ]
Duke sent : I’ll be there. ]
He’d made a commitment to becoming a vigilante, he might as well fully integrate.
Eight comes around faster than expected. Duke walks into the Manor after some time out with Maps and finds the living room packed. Cass and Steph are sitting together, heads bent as the blonde girl talks quietly, probably catching the other up to speed on the situation. Jason is by a window, looking out with his thinking face on. Bruce is sitting, Dick standing close by and Damian has obtained an entire loveseat to himself with Titus taking up the opposite side. Kate is surprisingly also in attendance and is conversing with Barbara pleasantly while they wait. Duke spots Harper and immediately beelines for her, at least they can relate to being the newer members of this community.
“Do you know what’s going on?”
“I hear Tim has been back,” Harper says with a raised brow. “Heard you let him escape.”
He groans. “It was an accident. I needed to use the bathroom.”
She shakes her head. “Crafty Tim. Of course he’d find a way out of here while beaten to hell and on medication that should make him sleep.”
“So this is about Tim, right?”
“It is,” Dick answers for him, coming to attention and indicating the start of whatever this is. “I was thinking -”
“Ya know how to think?”
“Listen, Jay,” Dick’s voice is firm even if his mouth twitches for a smile. “You were right.”
“Wow, this is a day for firsts.”
“About a plan,” Dick continues unbothered,” to bring Tim back.”
“Dick, I hate to say this, but… maybe we’re being too forceful.” Steph is the epitome of defeated concern. She knows Tim well, his deflections and his tendencies. “He doesn’t want to come back. And if Tim sets his mind to it, he’ll make it happen.”
“We’re his family,” Dick argues,” and we need to be there for him. No more letting him run and pretend we don’t care. If he needs proof, if he needs to be shown, then that’s what we should do. It’s important we be there for him, it’s important that we take care of our own.”
“I’m with Dickie on this one,” Jason puts in.
“I think,” Alfred says as he walks into the room holding a tray of hot and cold beverages for the others,” that perhaps Master Tim needs a slow reintroduction.”
“A slow reintroduction? How do we go about that?” Steph asks.
“Start slow,” Bruce speaks finally, voice deep and assertive. Everyone pays attention to what he has to say. “We slowly integrate him back. Little things to start with, so we don’t overwhelm him. We’ll get to the harder part of this after.”
“The hard part,” is Harper’s questioning voice.
“The part where we tackle all the emotional bullshit,” Jason helpfully replies.
“Language, Master Jason.”
Dick is onboard, although he feels impatient about the slow progression. Tim has been through a lot (a missing spleen is not a light topic of conversation) and he firstly wants to know what the hell happened in the time span Tim has been gone. The reality is they are all in the dark, even Batman, about current events of the Red Robin variety. It’s disconcerting to be aware of how fucked they’ve been in not keeping tabs on someone who is supposed to be one of their own.
“He’s not answering my texts,” Dick admits and gets various looks for it. He shrugs,” I couldn’t not say something once he left.”
“I told ya houndin’ him wouldn’t do a lick of good.”
“Someone else needs to start contact,” Damian throws in,” that isn’t on Drake’s bad side.”
“I’m not on his bad side,” Dick says, but then second guesses himself. Is he?
“I nominate Duke,” Harper speaks with a half-grin.
Duke blinks, honestly surprised. “Me? Why me?”
“He probably feels bad you got in trouble.”
“I’m not in trouble… am I?”
“No,” Bruce says with amusement,” you’re not.”
Duke looks relieved, however, also perplexed. “So what? Should I call him or something? What then? I feel weird about this.”
“Don’t be. Because I’m doing it with you.”
“Still not seeing a plan here.”
“So sometimes Tim comes to Gotham, right? To hang out?”
“He does?” That’s Dick sounding puppydog hurt at the information. Even Damian and Bruce look miffed ; Alfred has the face of someone trying not to be sad and annoyed.
Harper nods, looking to Cass. “And Cass should be next. He’ll talk to you.”
Cass tilts her head, placing a hand on her mouth then heart.
I will speak to him, she signs, and I will help him heal.
It’s a nice sentiment. Cass has this way about her, this empathy she’s acquired after turning away her assassin raised childhood. It’s seen some of them through hard times, her growth and her sorrow, her ability to love despite the pain she’s endured. If Tim is going to reach out to one of their own, Cass will be the best option they have now.
“I’ll be stopping by Wayne Enterprises more,” Bruce adds.
“Ya think that’ll be a good idea?” Jason looks contemplative, unsure if this course of action is too much for the beginning of their Get-Tim-Back master plan.
“I own the company, Jason. Showing up isn’t out of character, especially checking up on projects my company oversees. Something former Drake Industries personally handles now under our Research and Development Department.”
“I thought we were startin’ slow.”
“We are,” Bruce agrees,” that’s why I’ll be discreet and rarely intrude. Lucius has been keeping tabs on the workings within the company and has informed me of the workload Tim has. It’s become a cause of concern for some of the CEOs considering I’m hardly there and he is still fairly young.”
“Tim knows how to juggle work,” Dick smiles with pride.
“Could be too much for him. I believe taking some of the stress and burden of the company would be beneficial for him and show our support.”
“That… could work,” Jason says, sounding slightly impressed. “I didn’t know Tim was still workin’ so much. He still handles a lot of casework.”
“And leads the Titans.”
“Wow,” Dick murmurs, brow scrunched. “I… hadn’t realized how much he took on either.”
“He’s always been a workaholic,” Steph says wearily.
“Where do I come in?” Dick suddenly asks, trying to see an angle he can work with. It doesn’t look like he can do anything, that his presence is already backfiring.
Bruce’s eyes are sympathetic to Dick’s inner turmoil shining on his first ward’s face. “We’ll start with that for now. The more Tim relaxes, the more further we can integrate and change our circumstances.”
It’s… disheartening to hear. He should have expected it. Dick looks to Damian who also appears unhappy he can’t be of any help. All they really can do right now is sit and wait to see how the results pan out.
Kon is concerned. Of course he is, who isn’t worried about their bestfriend who tries to get himself killed on a daily basis? Tim is a Bat at heart and a human second. It’s an awful combination in Kon’s opinion. Humans are fragile, he’s come to learn. They bruise and bleed and die even when you try to protect them. Kon’s seen Tim at his worst, seen the only to battered to move, heard him slur words after a painful run of a mission. He’s now stock full of dreadful and scary ‘almost’ moments of watching his friend die (which, to be fair, he and Bart died at one point so if anyone can complain it’s Tim who has lived through some of Kon’s worst fears).
But this right now? What Tim is going through is killing Kon by proxy. It’s slow and painful, the hurt he sees on Tim’s face, the way Tim tries to deflect, the way Tim pretends he’s not shaking is horrible. It’s a raw expression, the way Tim stares at the messages on his phone, like each word is stabbing him in the chest.
Kon hates it. Bart does too.
They’ve been trying to distract their friend, but Tim is a master at holding onto the sharp edges of things he shouldn’t. Of course they’re hovering and stocking Tim up on food and water periodically, slip in meds when they think he isn’t paying close enough attention (he knows, he just doesn’t want to argue about it right now) after the medical exam. Tim is still healing, both mentally and physically. It makes Kon protective, makes him defensive against the onslaught the Bats are trying to throw Tim, their Robin, their resident bird’s way.
It makes Kon want to hit something.
“Please don’t destroy my phone with your heat vision.”
Kon blinks, looking up at Tim. The other is still face forward, eyes on the laptop spewing statistics and other nonsense Kon doesn’t have the patience to decipher. He hadn’t realized he was staring at Tim’s phone, glaring at it really.
“You were thinking it.”
That is partially true. He’d rather crush it into tiny pieces with his fist. “Maybe.”
Bart is on the floor with a magazine held above his head, lying there appearing comfortable on the carpet. He glances at them with a smile. “To be fair, I was too.”
“I need that phone.”
“We can get you a new one. I bet if we asked Cyborg real nice he’d build you a better, cooler one.”
“No thanks, I like mine.”
“Are you going to answer them?” Bart gets tired of beating around the bush even if he likes the banter. “Are you going to say anything back?”
Tim pauses in his typing. He’s still staring forward, still watching numbers find articulation on the screen. That’s a question he’s been asking himself since this morning. It’s hard to ignore the messages, the desperation in Dick’s, the concern in Steph’s, the single basic [ If you need to talk, just call ] from Jason. He doesn’t know what he wants to do, just knows that either way is going to bite him in the ass eventually.
“No. I’m not.”
There’s relief on Bart and Kon’s faces, both not happy with the Bats either. Tim understands they are worried about him, that his little breakdown this morning has put all three of them on edge. He’s not crawling back, however, regardless of their efforts to reach him. Tim isn’t stupid, he knows what await him if he dares to hope.
“Guess who my boy crush is.” Bart grins and laughs, holding up the magazine. At least here Tim has some normalcy.
Chapter 5: trouble ahead
“Hold it in,” Kon says over the commlink,” because we got a horde raging on my side still. They just won’t stay down.”
“Hit ‘em hard enough and they should stay down. I’ve seen you guys do it, some of them might just have a tougher shell than the rest. Keep pushing,” Tim instructs.
“Got it, boss."
Ultimately Tim has to wear the leg brace, a gaudy thing really (with stickers Miguel and Bart insisted be put on to give it some aesthetic or something, whatever, it was an excuse to be silly, he knows) and all he wants to do is rip it off. In addition to the brace, he’s been benched until properly healed, enforced by Cassie who would not take any of his bullshit deflection and half-assed excuses as to why he’s gotta be a right ass about throwing himself into danger. There’s no wiggle room and Tim is stuck in the Perch within the Tower for the time being, doing what he can via intel and computer work, leading the team and board of WE from his bed.
“I’m fine, Mr. Fox, I mean it,” Tim sighs into the phone, typing one-handed on the computer perched on his lap. “No it’s not that serious, but the doctor said it’s best to not walk or go anywhere and allow myself to heal. I should be back by next week if not two…. Yes, I know about the contract. I’ve spoken to R&D’s chief advisor about switching - yes, Tam knows, I talked to her yesterday.”
Cassie walks into the room, eyebrow raised. He holds up a finger, baying for more time to talk. He knows there have been explicit orders (he was team leader, how did it come to this?) to not stress himself out. But he is also Tim Drake, workaholic, WE’s golden child overseeing the inner proceedings of the R&D department and, really, everything else if he were honest. If he can’t lead the team, he at least should still try to keep things together at the company.
“I have to go - yes, I’m fine.” Tim pauses for a long moment, face going blank. “No. He doesn’t… he knows. You don’t need to contact him. Right, goodbye.”
Cassie watches him for a moment, the way he sighs and rubs his forehead like he has a headache coming on ; with everything happening she wouldn’t be surprised.
“You’re making this worse for yourself.”
“I’m not actively trying to,” Tim begrudgingly mutters.
A huff of a laugh shows that she doesn’t believe that. Cassie comes closer, doesn’t sit on the bed, just stands on one side (she doesn’t feel comfortable with that, not with how Bart and Kon guard it like its theirs too) and crosses her arms. “The team is worried.”
“What else is new?”
“Tim,” this time she is the one who sighs,” I can’t stress how important it is that we rely on each other. Everyone’s been through a lot since we started the Titans together, especially you -”
“Is this the part where you say I’m about to go on Intervention?” Cassie purses her lips, obviously trying to fight off amusement. Tim, however, smiles openly, tired, but genuine. “I know. I’m… trying. It’s fine. I get it, but it’s fine.”
Tim has always found it difficult to be truly honest about his pain. He’d suffered in silence most of his childhood ; Jack and Janet loved him, he was sure, but they were absent parents. He’d learned how to bury himself in work and masks because of Batman, and the only person he could trust without fail when it came to emotions now was Bart and Kon (and Alfred if he wanted to reach out to the older man) yet even that was less and less these days. There’d been progress, of course, when Kon and Bart were alive again, when he could take over again for the Titans, when he’d found his new identity as Red Robin and so forth. But the betrayal and fight that had occurred during the time Bruce was gone had left a hole too deep to fill back up. It was that hollow part that divided him from everyone else now.
Cassie, one of the core four, had lost a significant part of Tim’s trust too. Although she’d just been worried, having outed him to Dick during that time wasn’t a happy memory. It’s why she didn’t sit on the bed, why she and Kon were no longer together (not for Tim’s lack of trying to get Kon to forgive, not that it should have any place in their decision to continue seeing each other) and why he would always now be slightly more defensive when she called into question his ability to lead the team (she’d taken over for him, done a good job, but sometimes he wondered if that’s what she wanted, if she had used the situation to her advantage - Bat paranoia talking, really, Cassie would never do that, he knew). They were slowly gaining ground back, mending what had once been broken during the Cowl skirmish and his mission to bring Bruce back. It didn’t mean she didn’t care, it didn’t mean he didn’t either.
“The team took a vote.”
Uh oh. “For what?”
“Protocal Delta 6 5.”
Tim groans. “Part of my civilian identity entails that I run WE from where I lay.”
At this Cassie smiles. “It was made for a time out period, Tim. We go out and enjoy being civilians for a little bit. You could use it, we all could use it.”
And she’s right, he knows it, she knows it. He’s been laid up for a couple of days, already itching for something to do, some form of freedom outside these four walls. He could use the fresh air, the social normality and bond with his teammates, his friends outside of the mission. Tim sighs, he’s not going to be able to deny them.
So he puts on the dumb brace and he let’s Kon bear most of his weight when they go out for pizza and burgers. Bart’s already devoured two containers of fries by himself when Tim gets a sip of a milkshake and three burger bites in. It’s nice out, sunny and Tim’s got his shades on, protects his identity and eyes (no one needs to know Tim Drake-Wayne is in San Fran hanging out). He’s got Bart on one side and Kon on the other, safety between them, Gar’s laughter and Miguel’s taunting jokes in his ears, warmth bleeding through his chest when he looks up to glimpse Rae’s smile. So maybe he’s a lucky guy, despite having to wear a brace and his rather unwanted family reunion earlier ; at least he has these dorks.
Kon pokes his cheek with a fry, grin cheeky. “Daydreaming about me?”
Tim snorts. “You wish.”
“He does,” Cassie teases and they both laugh at the huff and fake pout directed at them.
“So,” Miguel licks his lips free of ketchup, lips smacking before continuing,” what are we gonna do now that boss man is out?”
Cassie taps her bottom lip. “The usual. Training. Missions. It’s not going to be much different.”
“I just won’t be there physically,” Tim informs,” but tech support until I’m ungrounded.”
“Ungrounded?” Bart laughs. “I can’t believe you just called it that. It’s not like we want to, man. We just don’t want you diving headfirst into trouble like usual. You’re down a whole leg.”
He shrugs. “Hasn’t stopped me before.”
“You,” Gar says, pointing at him with a wagging finger,” need better survival skills. Less trying to die and more trying to live outta you. Always giving me a heart attack with your nonsense.”
“I don’t try to.”
“Lies,” Bart quips with a friendly elbow nudge.
“I thought we weren’t meant to discuss such things while out,” Raven says quizzically. The whole point for this outing was to get away from the superhero aspect of their lives, just take a step back for a moment and be themselves outside of the costumes and heroics. In Raven’s opinion, they weren’t following through and for Tim she found it to be the most important thing to give to him right now.
“Do we ever escape that kind of talk?”
“What I wanna know,” Miguel starts and his voice is wary, weighing his next words,” is what we’re gonna do about you know who.”
Tim sends him a sharp look, one hand waving in a deceptively dismissive manner around them. Here is not a place to talk about this, not where anyone could be eavesdropping, whether their secret identities are known by those around them or not. “We’ll cross that bridge once we can. For right now, we stay low, gather information, find out whatever we can to make things easier. We don’t talk outside of the Tower where it’s secure.”
Tim realizes he’s tensed up bad when he feels a broad, warm palm softly place itself on his back. He relaxes back instinctively, Kon’s hand beginning to rub in slow, practiced circles to help ease him out of leader mode. They’ve all been under a lot of stress lately and if shit keeps hitting the fan, well, they’ll manage through.
“We’re out here to have fun, guys,” Gar chirps and gets up to throw out his trash. “I’m vegged out so if anyone wants to hit a beach for a little bit, I’m game.”
“We did pack things to go,” Cassie reminds.
“Tim can’t swim,” Bart teases.
“I wouldn’t want to even if I could right now,” is thrown back at the jab,” because I was planning to read anyway.”
“It’s an actual book, Bart. Those are good for the brain.”
“Even more nerdy.”
“Says the comic book junkie,” Tim chuckles.
“Hey, comic books are good for the soul!”
Kon is grinning wide and sly. “He’s just saying that because he can’t read books without pictures.”
“You guys are mean.” Bart’s smiling, everyone’s laughing, and it’s nice. Real nice.
Dick isn’t doing too good. He’s anxious, more than he should be, more than he usually would be when none of the baddies are out plotting and Arkham Asylum is locked up tight. There are no real worries at the moment except :
Tim. All he can think about was Tim. Where he was, how he was doing, who he was with, what was he thinking. It was strange, really, to realize how much he hadn’t thought about the other over the last year or so since getting Bruce back aside from scattered stray thoughts late at night when he couldn’t sleep. Why hadn’t he thought about Tim then? Why didn’t he care that the other wasn’t coming around to the Manor or meeting up for rooftop tag or team up for missions? Why did he have to wait until now? The answer is he didn’t. He didn’t think because part of him thought things were going okay again and he’d let Tim slip away and he’d forgotten the boy who’d looked up to him, admired him, the one he helped train to be Robin after failing Jason, the boy he’d smiled for a photo for just before his parents fell.
Since when had Tim become a part of the background of his life? Since when had he let that happen?
It was eating him up inside and the rest of the Bats could see it. “Stop.”
Dick blinks, broken from thinking by Damian’s quiet, but firm sigh. “Hm?”
“I said stop, Grayson. You wallow and get silent when you should be concentrating on how to bring him back.”
Now Damian, to even Dick’s surprise, has been particularly on board with bringing Tim back into the Batfold. Although he hasn’t volunteered to do anything personally, he’s plotted and prodded for solutions and plans best effective in gaining Tim’s trust. Dick has reason to believe there is some guilt mixed into these actions, but he doesn’t dare call the youngest bat out on it, at least not yet, not seriously. He’s always hoped the two would settle their differences, could be a team, could be brothers.
“I’m going to,” Dick says with conviction because he wants to, he’s going to no matter what he has to because this time he can’t let Timmy walk away.
“We are,” Damian corrects without spite and the way his eyes go that sad shade, that one expression that scrunches up his nose and makes his lower lip wobble, it has Dick’s heart clenching. “We are going to bring him back.”
And he’s so proud with how far Damian has come. They all are, Tim will be too when he comes back, Dick is sure. He just needs to bring things back, needs to bring Tim back, needs their family together.
Damian jolts with an aborted elbow throw when warm arms wrap around him. Dick’s been unusually clingy, more than expected, seeking contact and touch and comfort. Instead of yelling and complaining (rather fake, Dick can always tell, just for appearances mostly) the littlest one leans back into the hold and closes his eyes.
“We’ll get him back, Grayson.”
The hug gets tighter.
Under an umbrella, Tim relaxes back, book held over his head, reading a theology book he’s had no time to finish as of late. It sucks that he can’t go swimming with the rest of the crew, but Tim busies himself by filling his head with new knowledge, expanding his understand of science and psychology, having fun picking apart and dissecting each section he reads. His peace is short lived (a lie, he’s having fun with friends and alone, out here in the world, feeling so terribly human) when a figure lies down close beside him.
“Hello.” Bart smiles at him, sidling closer until he’s pressed up to Tim’s side. He trails his nose along the exposed part of Tim’s shoulder teasingly. “You’re missing out on all the fun.”
“I don’t mind lying in the sand.”
Tim can see Bart’s hair is still wet from paddling in the ocean, ginger curls flatter against his face and a stray drop trickles down one cheek and drops down into the cotten of his T-shirt. His eyes look darker under the shade of the umbrella above them, softer than Tim is used to seeing. Tim likes that look, regarding him, warming him with the invisible supporting touch of his friend and the arm that flops over his waist is also welcome.
“You’re on a towel.”
“You know what I meant.” He meets Bart’s cheeky smile with one of his own. “Why aren’t you swimming with the guys?”
“And gals. Now answer the question, speedo.”
“Pushy,” Bart sticks out his tongue as he says so. “I wanted to see what you were doing.” Tim raises his brows because that part should be obvious. “Okay, then what are you reading about, smart guy.”
A roll of the eyes. “Theology.”
“What would you rather I be doing?”
“Swimming,” Bart pouts,” but you can’t. So talk to me. I miss you.”
“I haven’t gone anywhere,” Tim says in exasperation, placing the book open onto his chest since Bart wants to talk. So much for getting time to read.
“Gonna go somewhere.”
Tim turns his head, nose to nose with the other. He takes his time to examine the expression on the speedster’s face, something akin to worry found there. They all are worried, Tim is no fool, not new to their protection. Bart, however, just like Kon, have always been more sensitive to his moods and his fears, ever since they died and came back, ever since he walked straight to the edge and almost didn’t come back.
So he smiles. “I’m not going anywhere, Bart. I promise.”
“Good because I can’t be the only one around here to take Miguel on in Mario Kart.”
“Still salty about Rainbow Road?”
“I was supposed to win the match, you know it, Tim! And then he threw one damn banana infront of him and I went right off the side! I was in the lead!”
“Yeah, yeah,” he laughs quietly and bumps their foreheads together. “I know, Toadette.”
“Don’t make fun of me too.”
“What are you two whispering about?” Kon calls out as he jogs over to them. He’s glistening under the sun, shirtless, grinning ear to ear after winning another match against Gar in volleyball.
“You’re the one with the superhuman hearing, you tell me,” Tim calls back lazily.
“You two look cozy,” Kon says instead, settling down on Tim’s other side. “Gossip Girls.”
Tim snorts. It’s inelegant and so very him, the humor dancing in his eyes, snark in the curve of his lips ready to strike back. He settles instead for lying his head back and closing his eyes while listening to his two bestfriends playfully bicker.
Titans Tower gets a distress call almost immediately after they get back. And fuck, Tim wishes he could go with them, the whole team dispersing and he trusts them to do this, comms in their ears with him on the Tower control panel. He’s got many eyes from street cameras and an overhead satellite (thanks JLA Watchtower) to keep himself on board with whatever is going on. Sea monsters are coming up from the depths of the ocean on the other side of California’s coast and he’s not too worried because they’ve handled worse without him on scene, he’s confident between five of them that things will be handled rather swiftly.
All he can really do is direct. “Got another one coming strong on your left, Rae.”
“Thank you for the assistance,” flows into his ear smoothing, thanking whatever deity is responsible for keeping the Tower’s good connection stable.
It’s actually kind of fun seeing everyone work in this perspective, not in battle, but more as a witness to what they can do. He feels pride surge through him when seeing Kon and Cassie tag-team punching out a group of mossy-faced attackers and again as Miguel saves a little girl from a pile of rubble in the wake of the ongoing battle. He also itches to join them, feel his bo-staff twirl under the weight of his palms and give a good ass kicking to rid the frustration lacing his bones.
“Red I got eyes on one fleeing the beach.”
“On it.” Furious typing links himself to several cameras just infront of the beach leading into the city. He sees the creature heading straight for the small crowd gathered nearby trying to watch the fight unfold. They start to scatter when they see an attacker is loose, coming straight for them, webbed front appendages up in a threatening manner. “Cassie I need you up front and center. Incoming on a crowd, moving at about half your flying speed.”
“Got it,” is the smooth answer before Tim gets an eyeful of punching and take down.
It’s all going good until the thing spits, something acidic and gross landing on Wonder Girl’s shoulder. She cries out in pain, diving back to the water with creature in one hand. “I need someone to help Wonder Girl!”
It’s Bart who answers the call, taking the creature off Cassie’s hands so she can do an emergency wash in the ocean. Of course that just puts their friendly speedster in the line of sewage vomit fire. “I’m hit!” Bart throws takes the thing into the water with him and Tim has a huge panic moment when one of his bestfriends takes a moment too long to surface.
Tim breathes easier once he sees the familiar suit come up. “KF?”
“I’m good,” interrupted by a cough,” but that thing spit some nasty stuff at me. I wanna puke.”
“Hold it in,” Kon says over the commlink,” because we got a horde raging on my side still. They just won’t stay down.”
“Hit ‘em hard enough and they should stay down. I’ve seen you guys do it, some of them might just have a tougher shell than the rest. Keep pushing,” Tim instructs.
“Got it, boss,” is echoed back at him. All of them work together to avoid any more green mucus and beat down the creatures enough to send them backing. They’re tempted to keep one for questioning, but it’s obvious whatever they are, they don’t speak any kind of human language they can translate. “Good job team. Wrap up and head on home. KF and Wonder Girl, if you have any material left after that sludge hit you, I’ll need samples when you get here.”
“Right-O,” Bart huffs a pained sound. It must have burned him a bit, acidic as it appeared. “Does this mean we get to talk to Aquaman?”
“I’ll do the talking once we have everything we need to show him with the evidence we’ve collected. Your job is to get here, clean up any wounds and rest. Let me figure out the rest.”
Tim sits back with a sigh. Appears there’s two mysteries on the Titans radar now.
Duke is… well, he’s unsure if he should be doing this. Of course he wants to help the Bats, but he also owes Tim some loyalty here too. If Tim doesn’t want to forgive and forget, if he doesn’t want to come back to Gotham as one of the Bats then who are any of them to tell him he has to?
[ A Week Later ]
He glances up at Harper watching him. She raises a brow at him. “Don’t know what to write?”
“I’m conflicted on whether we should be doing this at all.”
“We’ve been over this,” she says with a roll of the eyes.
“And I’m still not convinced. Maybe we shouldn’t -”
“Dick asked us to. They all did.”
Duke sighs because it’s been a strange roller coaster ride since he became involved with Batman and his crew. Sometimes he has to question himself on why the hell he’s here and if he should back out. Sure, being Signal is fun and vigilantism is a great hobby to work out your frustrations and make a difference, but morality is a fine line around here when it comes to personal boundaries ; Duke’s almost certain Bruce knows every dirty little secret he’s got.
Looking down at the phone in his hand with Tim’s name on the text screen pushes out another sigh. “What if he doesn’t want to come back?”
It’s Harper’s turn to look conflicted. “We can’t make them. I know they think that he’ll just up and come back, but he won’t. And he shouldn’t. What we’re doing is opening the door to try and heal the old wounds. I wasn’t here for whatever went on, neither were you. We’re the only links Tim feels safe with. We’re just sending a message.” She nods towards the phone in his hand. “And with that, the ball is in his court. He gets to decide.”
“Then why does it feel like we’re forcing his hand,” Duke mumbles.
Harper’s smile is wry. “Because in a way we are.”
Duke appreciates her honesty, however, it doesn’t settle the guilt simmering slow under his skin. If he does this, he’s committing this ‘mission’ to get Tim to come back. If he does this, he can’t back out, he’ll have already casted his die. He hopes if this ends badly that Tim won’t hold too much of a grudge or that any of the others won’t blame him if this whole thing fails.
He takes a deep breath and starts to type.
[ Duke sent : hey tim. you free? ]
Chapter 6: dawn of a new day
“So, you see that I’m okay. What else did you want to talk about?”
“You know they wanted me to contact you.”
There’s a moment of silence, just two young men staring at the other, looking for a reaction. Tim carefully chooses his words because Duke, although genuine in his concern, is still aligned with the Bats. He isn’t willing to drop everything and go back just because Duke relays a message or asks him too. “What will you tell them?”
Duke is flying this first get together solo, as much as he appreciates Harper’s input and help, he feels better knowing there is no one looking over his shoulder (unless of course he’s been bugged or whatever because, you know, Bats, but he’ll pretend that isn’t a possibility for now). Tim has agreed to meet up in Gotham at a bookstore that has a coffee machine and small bakery corner they can catch a bite at. It’s a quaint place, quiet for the most part and Duke has already snagged them a corner for privacy.
Tim comes ten minutes before they are supposed to meet and, well, Duke doesn’t blame him, he’s been here for the past twenty minutes counting blemishes on the wooden table he’s seated at. They greet each other with polite smiles, both cautious, both unsure of what’ll happen next. As soon as Tim is seated, Duke thumbs over his shoulder.
“In a minute. I don’t want to be too jittery while we talk,” Tim placates and gestures to Duke for him to get on with whatever this is.
And of course he knew Tim wasn’t fooled, but it was a nice thought up until the moment reality kicked him in the shin. “You probably know why I’m here then.” A nod. “Okay, right, I just wanna preface this with the fact that I actually came here alone and I… well, I was worried about you.”
“I should apologize. I didn’t mean to get you into trouble.”
“I wasn’t, uh, in trouble. Just really worried. You weren’t exactly healed when you left the cave and I saw you took the Ducati, half drugged and other half wounded.”
A sly smile crosses Tim’s lips and Duke can’t help, but grin back. “I managed. Two of the Titans came to get me about two minutes out.”
The relieved look on his brother’s face tugs a little at Tim’s heart strings. It’s obvious Duke genuinely cares, that he isn’t here on just some underhanded business. It’s nice to have that again, to not be suspicious of someone he’s meant to consider family, to be close to someone that looks at him as other than Bat (which he’s not, anymore at least). It relaxes the paranoid part of him that’s hard to shake off, easing back into his seat and smiling without the caution from before.
“So, you see that I’m okay. What else did you want to talk about?”
“You know they wanted me to contact you.”
There’s a moment of silence, just two young men staring at the other, looking for a reaction. Tim carefully chooses his words because Duke, although genuine in his concern, is still aligned with the Bats. He isn’t willing to drop everything and go back just because Duke relays a message or asks him too. “What will you tell them?”
“That you’re okay,” a shrug because honestly, what else was there to say,” and that I talked to you. Nothing you don’t want me to say, really.”
That makes Tim raise a brow. “So anything I say here stays between us?”
Duke makes a sweeping gesture with his hands,” Nothing you don’t want leaves here.”
“Are you bugged?”
“I - I don’t actually know. I hope not.”
That gets a laugh out of Tim. He wouldn’t put it passed at least one of the Bats (likely Bruce, possibly Babs or Dick) to plant a listening device somewhere unbeknownst to Duke. He decides it’s worth the risk since Duke has never done him wrong before and he kind of owes the guy some of his time after throwing him under the bus the previous week. So Tim shrugs and gets up to fix himself a cup of coffee because he knows they’ll be here for awhile. And he informs Duke of his harrowing couple of days bedridden with a leg cast, bored out of his mind doing paperwork and monitoring duty to keep himself from going crazy. In return, Duke talks about his progress in training, his new hideout and suit, perspective on everything that’s been happening around him ; Tim is proud to see him adjusting well.
“I got sent a care package,” Tim says evenly.
They’ve relocated to a park down the street, people watching and chatting idly, all superhero talk now put on the backburner. Gotham weather is just as gloomy as he remembers, the sky darkened into a sickly grey, the threat of rain lined in every cloud he can see. The bench is cold metal under their butts, seeps the chilly air into the back of their thighs as they sit side by side comfortably. Duke sends him a half-smile to indicate that he is aware.
“I watched Dick ask Alfred for advice on what to send you after you left. I wasn’t the only one worried about you walking out of there still beat up.”
“My leg was the only part that gave me trouble.”
“That’s what Alfred said it was. What did he end up deciding on?”
A roll of the eyes proves there is no amusement within this answer. “A heating pad and a brace I didn’t need. And candy, some of my favorites.”
“Candy wins brownie points with you?”
“Not usually,” a shrug. “I also got about three emails that listed helpful exercises for my leg… found on my private email… that is supposed to be used for emergencies only.”
Duke does his best impression of someone who is not about to laugh. “Well, you are talking about some talented people.”
“It was probably Barbara’s fault,” Tim concedes with a sigh,” she has a way of breaking through all my backdoors no matter how many times I rewire it. At least she didn’t hack in and change my desktop to someone gross.” At Duke’s curious gaze he adds,” Not a story I wanna tell this time around. It was just plain embarrassing.”
They lapse into silence for a time, content to just be near each other. Duke feels pretty successful in checking up on his friend, glad to see Tim on his feet after the whole scare. It’d been difficult those three days seeing him struggle, the misery and downright panic the other had exuded while locked in the cave (as yes, it was a lockdown, Duke wasn’t dumb, he understood it for what it was). He doesn’t know what he’s going to tell Harper and the others, but he won’t betray Tim’s confidence and trust ; it’s obvious that’s where the real issue lies between Red Robin and the Bats.
“How long are you staying in Gotham?”
Tim shrugs, noncommittal. “Don’t know. Have a meeting with an informant tonight then I’ll probably head back to the Tower.”
Duke almost asks if he’d like to stay at the Manor, that afterwards they could play some video games and beg Alfred to make them homemade pizza. But that isn’t their relationship anymore and Tim wouldn’t come, doesn’t want to and that’s been made clear. Instead he nods and bumps fists with the other before standing up and bidding him a farewell.
They part ways. Tim actually feels a little lighter after the interaction.
Dick takes to the streets of Blüdhaven with a meanness he hasn’t felt in awhile. Every line in his body is taut, tensed for combat, fists ready to do the talking. The baddies seem to sense his ire because many run instead of fight, too many give up before anything is started and it just mounts the frustration boiling under his skin. He needs an outlet, he needs -
( Come in, Nightwing. )
He blinks, knocked out of his pent up anger. “Babs?”
( Who else, hunk wonder. )
That makes him chuckle, relaxing a smidgen upon hearing that familiar electronic voice in his ear. It grounds him in a way he hadn’t realized he needed right now. “Is there a case?”
( Nope. This is a social call. )
( B told me you left Gotham in a bit of a … fit. )
That was an understatement. Not even twenty hours ago, Bruce and him had been talking one minute, then the next arguing and Dick had left in a whirlwind of anger. Now that he was thinking about it, Dick was sure it was due to the absence of a certain baby bird and now he felt bad that he’d taken it out on Bruce. “I… think I messed up.”
A crackle over the comm intertwined with a laugh bursts into his ear.
( No kidding. I think he’ll forgive you. We’re all on edge about this. )
“Thanks again for getting me his email.”
( Don’t mention it. I’ve got a few surprises for him coming this week. )
( He can ignore me all he wants but I’m blasting Barbie Girl through his
speakers until he contacts me back. )
A full belly laugh erupts from his mouth, unstoppable, pleasant. It feels like ages since he’s been able to do that, just let go. Dick can’t find it in himself to be worried about if anyone down below on the streets heard him. He leans against a rooftop ledge and laughs until he can hardly suck in the next breath. Tim is gonna be hella pissed when it happens, he can imagine it now : the pinch in his expression, the cute way his nose scrunches up and that murderous look he gets when real annoyance bleeds through his often careful mask.
He swears he’s in tears by the time he can actually speak. “Strategic approach.”
( I like to think so. How’s your night going? )
He straightens up and looks around. “Quiet. Broke up a bar fight and two robberies.”
( Sounds like you’re in for an early retirement. )
“Ha, I wish.” Not really, Dick likes being Nightwing, saving people, swinging from the rooftops. But Babs is right, there isn’t really anything left to do tonight. “I’m heading in. You still wanna talk?”
( You go have fun, hunk wonder. Talk to you soon. )
The transmission ends, but Babs words cause confusion. Dick doesn’t get it until he’s sliding through the unlocked window of his apartment. There lounging on his couch is a familiar sight,” Jason. You didn’t call ahead.”
“I doubt ya woulda cleaned up much if I did.”
Dick closes the window with a raised brow aimed at the other. “Did something happen?”
A huff. “You, apparently. I heard from the brat that ya stormed outta the Manor. Big man get yer undies in a twist or somethin’?”
Dick is half-surprised Damian didn’t show up too. He now feels guilty about taking his frustration out on Bruce and worrying their younger brother. Peeling off the domino feels like shaving off a layer of himself, stepping back into Dick Grayson the person and scrapping Nightwing the vigilante. “I didn’t mean to get angry. I just… I want to see Tim.”
Want to make things better, is implied. He misses Tim fiercely, Jason too, they all wish he’d come back. Duke had seen him, been the first contact, however, wasn’t forthcoming with any interesting information other than Tim had healed fine and was still puttering around Titans Tower with his friends. The news about the beach attack the Titans had gone through wasn’t elaborated on, where Tim’s involvement had been, whether he planned to come talk to any of the other Bats, nothing Dick was hoping to hear. He doesn’t blame Duke who doesn’t appear happy to meddle with Tim’s choices, he also knows Tim is slick when it comes to avoiding questions, layering conversations with half-truths in order to steal away whatever he doesn’t want revealed. All of it just winds Dick up further, coiled like a cobra ready for anything he can strike at for his own advantage into wheedling his way in.
“Ya know what people forget to mention bout ya? Yer lack o’ patience.” Jason stands from the couch, helmet on the coffee table and bare expression there for Dick to inspect. The other doesn’t look like he’s slept for two days, stubble starting to grow on Jason’s chin and cheeks. “Yer not the only one it’s killin’, Dick.”
And now Dick feels bad for ignoring the fact that Jason too harbors a desperate want of Tim to return. After their first gruesome encounter, Jason and Tim have patched things up fairly well, getting along, being there for each other - and then all hell had broke loose when Bruce had ‘died’ and Jason repeated some hazardous mistakes. Jason isn’t here to rag on Dick, he’s here for comfort, for shared pain and Dick has never been one to turn anyone away.
So he takes his uninvited guest by the hand and pulls him into the bedroom, immediately getting undressed and into a comfortable pair of sweatpants. Jason hesitates, he always does, before stripping down to his boxers and waiting for Dick to climb into bed first. Once the elder is situated in bed how he likes, he opens his arms and Jason rolls his eyes, but he’s squeezing into that warm embrace where it feels safe and enveloping, one of the many upsides to knowing Dick Grayson.
They don’t talk at first, they never do, they didn’t at the start of this strange tentative truce when Jason had started to come around again, pulled back into the gravitational pull that was their ridiculous yet well-loved family. Jason’s body is more muscle than he remembers, hard lines and broad shoulders, so different than when he was first starting out as the second Robin some years ago. Dick’s arms encircle tighter, willing protection and affection through his touch, the way he’d always done with hugs and contact.
“I missed this,” is the first words he hears out of Jason’s mouth. Softer in speech, slurred a little by drowsy contentedness. It warms his heart to hear it. “Shoulda done this sooner. Too stubborn.”
Dick chuckles, smoothing a hand down a strong back, fingers digging in lightly. A pleased noise reaches his ears so he does it again. “Me too. It’s sometimes lonely here without you guys.”
“I broke in, didn’t I?”
A grin is pressed into dark hair, Dick squeezing the other briefly. “Thanks for not actually breaking the window this time. Replacing it wasn’t fun.”
“I helped ya clean up.”
“Just take a key instead.”
“I can’t waltz in here while in get up,” Jason murmurs, obviously drifting off. “Neighbors will talk.”
Dick laughs then, more subdued so he doesn’t shake Jason around too much, already expecting the grumbling that surely follows. While Jason finds his peace in slumberland, Dick lies awake and does the worst thing he can do in this situation : think. He thinks about the last time he hugged Tim, the last time Tim smiled at him, laughed with him, memories of chasing each other across Gotham’s rooftops, flipping off buildings, catching the lithe male in his arm for a quick save during patrol.
He’s going to bring Tim home, he’s resolved.
Whatever it takes. Even if Tim won’t listen at first, he won’t give up. Jason wouldn’t be here if he did, neither would Damian. Many of their Batclan members would have drifted off to who knows where if they hadn’t stuck to the mentality of sticking together.
Dick buries his nose in Jason’s hair and squeezes his eyes shut tightly, wills for a few hours of no thinking, of blissful sleep. He can worry about other things in the morning.
“This is grossly unfair,” Miguel whines as Bart laps around him in Mario Kart for the second time. “How are you so good? You’re not supposed to be this good!”
“I have the skills, friendo.” Bart grins cheekily, twisting and turning his body like the racing kart on screen as if it helps.
Tim’s been listening to them banter back and forth for the last hour and a half. He’s concentrating on some reports that have come in, intel gathering as he plans the team’s next move. Things have been surprisingly quiet after the beach fiasco, but that doesn’t stop the creeping feeling of something dreadful happening right under their noses, Tim just needs to find out what it is. He’s been methodically combing through everything they’ve gathered in the last two months, hoping a new lead will jump out of the slew of numbers, locations, informant’s testimonies and other things held between his hands and scattered about his person.
“Is sitting cross-legged so soon a good idea?”
Tim looks up to see Cassie standing a few feet from him, eyebrow raised, concern lining her mouth into a thin, pursed shape. She’s been hovering less now that he’s able to get up and do his own thing, Kon and Bart still watch him, like always, ready to help, try not to be overbearing, but Cassie hasn’t quite let it go. It shouldn’t surprise him, he’s always been referred by the team as their only ‘fragile human’ member, however, it does get old after awhile.
He sighs, setting the paper in his hand down by his knee for a quick breather. “It’s okay. It’s not going to damage anything further. I can walk around without the brace just fine.”
She nods, the look still there as she settles next to him on the floor, careful not to disturb his set up. “I received a message from Aqualad.”
That peaks his attention. “What did he say?”
“That his king has noted the incident and is investigating the creatures and their origin. They have no idea why they attacked the beach. However, they assured me that the acid is just a corrosive and not poisonous. We should not be worried about any ill effects.”
That was a relief. Tim had been half-expecting those who’d been hit would have to see emergency medical or quarantine. He’d debated calling Batman, someone with the capabilities to identify the substance as quickly as possible, but after inspection and wiping everyone clean of it, there hadn’t appeared to be a need. Aquaman would surely pass along any information to the Justice League and the report he’d sent to the Watchtower should have been enough ; hopefully no surprise guests would be knocking on their door any time soon.
“Good to know. We’ll update them if we find anything else, other than that we need to focus on other priorities.”
“Any leads?” Cassie asks curiously, peering down at some of the papers.
It’s a lot of geographical calculations and transmissions received by various unnamed informants Red Robin has collected over the span of his career, some even from his Robin days (but he doesn’t want to think about that and Cassie isn’t heartless enough to bring that up). The mess makes sense to Tim, Red Robin, the boy detective as he skims lines and catalogs mentally what he feels is important, what he needs to be expanded upon.
“Nothing concrete yet. I’m going over some new information I found while in Gotham the other night.”
“Oh?” Her smile is gentle while she prods.
“I went for that and to see a friend,” he doesn’t elaborate further, aware that his two other teammates have been quiet for some time and are probably listening in ; surely Bart at the very least. “Other than that, uneventful. This new information may not give us much, but maybe there’s something there…”
“Anything I can do to help?”
“Keep Bart and Miguel from murdering each other over Mario Kart.”
Twin ‘Hey!’s are shouted over at him for the joke. It causes him to grin, lopsided and unperturbed. He’s been feeling exceptionally well since his meeting with Duke, a positivity driving him to keep going, to keep doing what he’s been doing for the better. At least someone in the Batclan (besides Alfred, of course) cares about what he wants, his privacy, understands his predicament about not wanting to just go back without a fight.
Maybe things are looking up.