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see how you broke me (see how you lost me)

Chapter Text

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 -

"Be still."

"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."

"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.

"Timmy -"

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."

"Relax -"

"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."

To myself.

"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 Text

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.

“Master Tim.”

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.”

“Your team?”

“The Titans.”

“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.”

Jackpot.

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.”

“Jason -”

“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 -

Uh oh.

Chapter Text

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.”

“Steph.”

“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.”

“Oh yeah?”

“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.

“Tim.”

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.”

“He did.”

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.”

“Hm.”

“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.”

“Needed time.”

“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.”

“Thanks.”

“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.”

“No goodbyes?”

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.

Chapter Text

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.

“Morning.”

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.

---

“Family meeting?”

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.”

“Sorry.”

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.

“I wasn’t.”

“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 Text

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.”

“Sorry.”

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.”

“Neeeeerd.”

“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.”

“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.”

“Boring.”

“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.

“Are you?”

“Hm?”

“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.”

“Ugh. Gross.”

“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.

[ A Week Later ]

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?

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 Text

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.

“No coffee?”

“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.

“You knew?”

“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.

Chapter Text

He takes it all back, every last positive bone of his body is gone, beaten out by upbeat music as he slams shut his backup laptop in frustration. Barbie Girl and Mamma Mia! have been alternating on repeat through both of his work laptop’s speakers. Tim knows it’s Babs’s doing and he also knows what she’s trying to get him to do. With grinding teeth, he contemplates buying a whole new computer just to avoid the conversation that’ll follow if he falls for this trap.

Kon, who has the unfortunate gift of super-hearing, checks up on him with a face full of bemusement. “There a party goin’ on in here or something?”

Tim huffs, lips pursed as he continues to battle within himself his next decision. Kon waits him out patiently, striding over to sit on the end of the bed while Tim stands by his desk, glaring down at the offending electronics. Should he give in, he’s going to be subjected to some stern motherly grilling and be set up in a game of ‘should I lie or tell the truth or avoid everything like the plague’. If he wants to use his own equipment in peace again, the bullet is gonna have to be bitten.

“I’m about to make a mistake.”

 

Damian sits in the Manor kitchen picking at his food, eyebrows drawn tight in thought. He’s been doing a lot of thinking lately and not the ‘I’m going to take over the Batman mantle and make father proud’ type this time. His thoughts, like everyone in the immediate family, are consumed by the thought of Drake. Their small interaction in the cave had been… unpleasant at best. They had never truly gotten along, Damian could admit that, would be a fool to pretend he could convince anyone otherwise, including himself. Rivalry had fueled every encounter, had driven them further and further apart without any chance of closing the gap once his father was “dead”, Grayson had taken over and the Robin mantle had been forcefully removed from Drake and passed along to him. At the time a smug victory was all he felt, rightfully believing in what had occurred despite the fracturing aftermath. He hadn’t known then what it meant to be a family, how connected everyone was meant to be, the way his father had always done things.

Grayson had tried so hard to fill in those shoes, his attention diverted to mentoring him towards a different, more heroic path than he’d been raised in. This did, however, leave Drake out in the open, neglected ; Grayson had tried to reach out, but his disbelief for Drake’s suspicions had only wedged them further apart. Damian hadn’t believed, hadn’t given Tim a spare thought then and now he was grateful, relieved that perceived outrageous denials were in fact truth.

“You’ve been staring awfully hard at your meal, Master Damian.”

Damian does not startle or flinch (except he does, the barest amount, he’s just good at hiding the action) at the butler’s voice. He glances up, baby scowl in place where a ruminative expression had once been. Pennyworth was too observant and perceptive for someone untrained by any master of human behavior.

“It is of no concern of yours, Pennyworth. I assure you.”

The elder man gives him an unconvinced, piercing stare. Leave it to the Manor’s long-standing caretaker who takes no nonsense to make a young boy raised by assassins feel stripped and bare under a watchful gaze. Damian assesses Pennyworth back, a wordless battle of wills happening in a silent kitchen with only two occupants.

The younger gives in. “I have been thinking.”

“I have assumed. The question, Master Damian, is of what.”

Damian lets out his auditory tick, a sneer laced tch. “Your mannerisms are lax for a butler.”

Alfred doesn’t rise to the bait, never has, probably never will. He continues to dry the plate in his hands, unwavering eyes fixed on the dawning peril of the boy. Damian, while stubborn, did crave understanding and comfort, social connection and, most of all, acceptance and love. As cold as he may have been upon first revealing his existence, Damian has softened his sharp edges, round like the chub of his cheeks, less aggressive towards acts of kindness and displays of weakness.

In the end, Damian concedes to being honest about the troubling path of his conscience. “I am… wondering if perhaps I have made a terrible error in my actions… towards Drake.”

He does not spit the surname from his lips like he had countless times when they’d first met. The tone used suggests deep contemplation, regret and guilt. A warmth of pride and fondness fills Alfred’s heart as he listens, carefully chooses his words when addressing the youngest member of the Manor inhabitants. The boy has grown emotionally in the considerably small time spent at the Manor in the company of his newfound family. Months ago, Damian would have never admitted to anything wrong pertaining to their missing member’s absence.

“We are all worried and would prefer Master Tim come back to the fold,” Alfred assures as he places the plate in a cupboard and hangs the dish towel. “I believe you are missing him, Master Damian. But I also would like to point out that the circumstances of Master Tim’s reluctance to return is no one’s sole fault.”

Alfred can understand why the blame may be shifted more on certain shoulders, however, he wasn’t foolish enough to not see it was a mixture of many factors. Tim had always been the lonely type, the ‘I can do this on my own’ kind of person ; reminded him of Bruce too much some days. He can see where Damian is coming from, how the hostility between them must have affected Tim and his current dismissal of interacting with anyone within Batman’s circle.

Fists clenched in his lap, the young man speaks with conviction. “He must return.”

Alfred does not hide the solemn emotion he feels. “If only it were that simple.”

 

Tim sits with chin in hand, half-smile on his lips. Barbara has been knocking into him for the last twenty minutes, berating his dodgy behavior and making her wait so long for a response. Part of him is, as expected, annoyed, but the other part is leaning onto happiness. It’s nice to know when someone cares, that even now he’s still her little lost boy she’s looked after like a little brother. Kon disappeared ten minutes after the initial ranting when he deemed there was no underhanded tactic being played to push Tim in any direction ; just concern for a very well-known self-sacrificing individual.

“You, little man, nearly gave us all heart attacks.”

Tim rolls his eyes, used to the dramatics. No Bat affiliate lived without one or two ‘you could have died!’ lectures. Aside from Dick and Bruce, Babs was a notorious offender in that department. “Well, as you can see, I lived. I’m back in action, my leg is working just fine.” At her disapproving frown, he adds,” I’m being forced to do minimal work without too much strain. Trust me, the team is going to extreme lengths to let me not make a fool of myself twice in the same month.”

The hacker nods in approval, taking a delicate sip of her hot beverage. Her face is a little grainy on the screen, incognito mode always at the ready to obscure and protect her identity, caution always at the highest in their line of work. The mood shifts from scolding to something more relaxed, but also careful.

“Everyone misses you, Tim.”

He snorts, unwillingly to just play along to this conversation he’s been desperately avoiding. Of course Babs won’t try to sway him, wants him to make his own decisions. That doesn’t mean her perspective isn’t a little skewed, isn’t leaning towards what everyone else is thinking and feeling. “I miss you too,” he offers quietly because that too is what she’s trying to say.

Her smile is sad and Tim’s chest stutters for a breath when she aims it at him. “They’re going crazy, you know. Especially Dick.”

And here is the dreaded part Tim had hoped they’d both be able to skirt over. In hindsight there really was no way any conversation wasn’t going to regress to this point. Babs’s fondness of Dick (read : clear favoritism) is leaking through, is making her reach out to him the way they both can correctly predict the man himself wants to do in her place. He won’t blame her, has been subjected to the Dick Grayson charm himself one too many times to pretend he hasn’t been swayed to go out of his way for the man.

That doesn’t mean he’ll ask after them. He knows Bruce and Babs keep enough tabs on every member, knows they’ll take care of themselves (they did just fine without him all this time, hadn’t they?) so he doesn’t need to worry. They feel bad, Tim is certain, the dawning impact of what all this time away has been about is finally starting to take root. Their realization, however, isn’t his problem, he’s come to terms with this a long time ago (even if it still hurts, even if it still haunts him in the lonely hours at night by himself when he can’t sleep).

“Tim?”

He doesn’t realize he’s been silent for too long. “If they need my help, they know how to contact me.” It’s the automatic response, knee-jerk reaction to any emotional tie to the Bats these days. It’s true, they can reach him, just not directly.

“They don’t want a flash drive dropped at their door, Tim. They want you.”

Every muscle seized up at that statement, the bile of denial sticking in his throat. He wants to believe those words as much as he wants to call it a lie. She must see his dilemma as she retracts, pulls back on her words and advance. She doesn’t want to hurt him worse, doesn’t want to pin him to a corner for him to be grabbed and held down ; she was not happy with hearing how they’d essentially trapped him despite his medical need.

“I’m sorry,” she amends.

He swallows, the harsh bob of his adam’s apple only drying his throat more. “It’s okay, I-” He cuts himself off, eyes darting away from the screen and around to every exit, every escape. “I’m not ready,” he admits, although it is also not a promise to push this issue further in the future.

Barbara nods her understanding. “I’m always here. I won’t say anything else about it, so you’re safe to talk to me. And if I need to teach them a lesson… well, you got a taste. I’ll torture them worse.”

That earns her a weak smile as Tim knows firsthand that threat is more than plausible. “Thanks… it’s nice to be able to just talk to you. Sorry I’ve been radio silent.”

“Don’t apologize. I saw footage of that beach incident.” Tim can spot a change in topic for his sake a mile away. He’s grateful Babs knows him so well, cares for him enough to not press anymore. “Care to tell me what those nasty gunk monsters were all about?”

Tim also knows a perfect opportunity to extend his resources, distraction or not.

 

Bart looks at the ceiling where Tim’s perch would be. He’s uncharacteristically silent and near motionless except for the rapid speed tapping of his left foot while leaning against the back of an unoccupied chair in the lounge area. Everyone else is in their rooms, but himself and Kon who is out on a pizza run. He’d elected to stay put to keep an eye on Tim, anxious once he heard that Oracle, a Bat member, was calling to check in.

He’s weighed the risks of letting Tim privately deal with the situation on his own or butting in and barring contact. Maybe it’s not within his right, maybe that’s a childish desire to keep Tim far away from the family he’d been close to. Bart tries to stamp it out, but a storm of protectiveness and selfish want begins to slowly take over all reasonable thought. He does not want to give Tim back by any means.

Those feelings of his are becoming more exposed, open and attention seeking. It’s not the most obvious of crushes Bart has harbored yet he’s held this affection so close to his heart that he can’t find it in himself to lay low about it either. How many of those nights he and Kon had coaxed Tim to sleep did he stay up just watching the stressed lines smooth out, the rise and fall of Tim’s chest, listen to the peaceful breathing of his friend. Tim, for whatever reason, either hadn’t caught on or was keeping quiet about the unspoken crush.

It was slowly and methodically driving Bart right up an invisible wall.

Speedsters don’t do slow. Speedsters don’t like to wait. Yet, Tim made Bart stop, made him hesitate. Everything was so frustratingly blurred now. When Tim had come crawling back to the Tower after bringing his believed dead mentor back, something had changed, something had broke apart the clarity that had been Tim’s connection to the team. Piecing him back together had been strenuous, difficult and rewarding. Bart did not want to see him shattered again, loathed the thought and the possibility with a hatred he hadn’t known he could feel.

And the worst part? Seeing him struggling again, damaged by old wounds, conflicted with old habits to run on back. The Tower was Tim’s home now as it was for everyone else. Bart would not, however, trap Tim here, could not decide for Tim, even if it was killing him inside to watch this all unfold. He would fight the Bats tooth and nail, but for Tim he’d yield.

In the end he would always yield for Tim, even if he went back to the pain and misery that awaited him with the Bats once more. It would surely drive him mad, but Bart was defenseless against both his bestfriends.

“Knock, knock. Pizza delivery!”

Kon came swooping in then, placing the boxes of pizza carefully down on the center table. Looking up, he caught his friend’s expression and gave a sympathetic smile. “He’s gonna be okay. I know it’s making you nervous, but Tim has this. Oracle isn’t like that.”

Bart wanted to say he didn’t know, that he didn’t care.

It must show on his face anyway because Kon steps closer, nuzzles into his hair while wrapping an arm around him in comfort and support. They’re both invested in Tim’s wellbeing, admittedly more than anyone else on the team. Together they’ve worked hard on getting Tim back to a stable point, loving him with all that they were, standing beside him, unwavering.

Tim is going to be okay. They will be here to make sure of it.

 

Venturing downstairs after a long conversation about sea creatures and their weirdness, Tim finds everyone waiting for him, already handing out plates and taking a share of tonight’s dinner. He smiles, finally relaxing, shedding the layers of Red Robin and former Batclan member to be just Tim. Overall the talk with Oracle had been better after the initial hurdle and now he could go back to work without Aqua music blasting in his ears.

“Here”, Miguel hands him a plate already topped with three pizzas. He’s given a look that lets him know that he is expected to eat each one.

“Who ordered sausage? You barbarians!” Gar’s outcry has them all laughing good-naturedly. This is why Tim loves it hear, calls it home, calls these people family.

A movie is put on and Tim is squashed between Kon and Bart as always, belly full and content to just lie back into one friend while being laid upon by the other. Tim is noticing that Bart seems more interested in him tonight rather than Homeward Bound that’s playing on the TV screen. He catches the frequent quick glances up at his face, the way the speedster’s cheek rubs against his arm periodically, the furrowing brows a clear sign of something.

Before he can think twice about it, his fingers weave into Bart’s unruly ginger hair, combing through with additionally scratches to the scalp. Bart stills then melts right into it, cheek mushed against Tim’s chest and, after a few minutes, dozes. Tim’s heart flutters at the sight, and can practically feel the smile Kon throws their way the next time he looks down to observe the two. Nothing new of three bestfriends who are comfortable with each other.

 

King of Atlantis, Arthur Curry, is suspicious.

After talking to the Titans and gathering information, he’s left with questions he cannot seem to find the answers to. The attack was spontaneous with no clear objective, perpetrated by unknown creatures from the depths of the ocean he had never encountered before. Recovering one to dissect in the Atlantian labs was a hard find as many were dissolved into an unidentifiable liquid-like substance after the battle on the beach with the Titans. An intact body appeared to be structured like a jellyfish with a gelatin body and two ejectory points in the throat to spit the corrosive liquid they had used to attack the team. Although it burned skin, it didn’t appear to cause anything more than intense pain then extreme nerve numbness.

What Arthur wanted to understand was the motivation : why had they attacked the beach, what was there to gain with waging war on the human populace?

“Your Majesty,” a medical examiner calls for his attention.

“What is it? What have you found?”

Chapter Text

Tim’s been messaging Harper and Duke frequently the last two days. While he freely talks with Duke, he’s cautious with the words he chooses for Harper who is more or less fishing for information about him. Feeling chipper, Tim hums as he taps on his phone.

[ Duke sent : back in gotham? when? ]

[ Tim sent : in 3 days. board meeting to attend. ]

[ Duke sent : more like BORED meeting. amirite? ]
[ Duke sent : was that too lame ]

[ Tim sent : good one man. see you after. ]

Unable to keep the smile off his face, Tim looks up to see Raven watching him in amusement. She won’t ask, but it is clear she is curious of his behavior. He knows Raven and Gar have his back about not talking to the Bats despite having been close with Dick during the old Titans days. Gar had told him Dick called the Tower after he’d left the Manor, had stood his ground against leaking any personal information Tim was not privy to just have handed over. A part of Tim felt guilty making anyone pick sides, especially old friends, but Gar and Raven knew the situation, were not happy with how Tim had ended up after everything.

“It is nice to see you smile.” Raven’s voice is soft, the same as the upturn of her lips and the emotion in her eyes.

He almost reaches a hand up to feel along his mouth to see if it’s really true. Almost. “I like to smile. I like seeing you smile too.”

“What about me?” The voice is whiny as Miguel enters the room, draping himself along the couch so his feet dangle over the armrest. He looks beat, tired eyes resting closed.

“A well done dramatic entrance, I must say.” Tim reaches over to pat Miguel’s head, laughing quietly when his palm is nuzzled into.

The happiness buzzing under his skin makes him thumb his phone, pondering some possibilities. It was a dangerous thought, thinking of the Manor, of the family that occupied it. He did miss it, missed Alfred and Bruce and the others, the late nights of rooftop tag, chowing down on a burger and milkshake while on a stakeout. There’s a hole in his heart that’s been gaping and bleeding as he’s desperately been trying to stitch it up and heal. The anxiety of being at the Manor after years had messed with him at first, all he wanted to do was shut that away, build all the walls back up that they had tried and failed to tear down.

Now he was replaying the events in his head, remembering the concern and warmth he’d been offered. Their meddling had been unwanted from the start, but the emotion… he’d wanted that, he realized. He wanted them to want him. It was painful just as it was gratifying.

That… that was a very dangerous thought.

 

Roy isn’t sure what to make of this. Jason has been… quiet, the calculating look in his eyes usually reserved for high risk missions. This calm is foreboding, something is going on in his friend’s head and Roy isn’t sure he should ask or wait it out or what.

His big mouth decides for him. “You’re thinkin’ awful hard over there.”

Jason doesn’t even flinch. His chin is in his hand, gaze searching, thought after thought crossing his mind. There’s a plan forming, an approach he wishes to put into motion. Ever since Timmy boy pushed them away, ran away, he’s been preoccupied with what to do, where to go from here. Tim is still a bat (you always will be, Timbo, no changing that now, just as much as I am) and, just like everyone else, Jason wants him back in their circle.

But he’s also kicking his own ass for this, for leaving Timmy in the dark, for contributing to the horror in those indigo eyes when Tim woke up in the cave. He’d messed up, he knows it, they all know it. He holds a lot of that guilt deep in his chest, every time he sees the scar he put on the third robin it bubbles back up like a disease. He’s better in control of himself now (not before hurting him again, idiot -) since Bruce was brought back and the Who Deserves to be the Batman? fiasco has ended.

Dick was right on the money - Tim has to be brought back to them.

He’s been bad, done plenty of shit to be judged on, the kind of motherfucker who doesn’t hesitate to pull the trigger twice. But Timmers, god, he never gave up, never gave in, always stood straight-backed against his misplaced anger and his pain, forgave him after all he’d done to one of the few people who always outstretched a hand in kindness and acceptance.

“There’s somethin’ I gotta do ‘n I gotta do it right,” Jason finally says, mostly to himself, but Roy is there listening, curling around every word with curiosity.

The memory of Jason’s dark stormy expression when coming to chill at his pad gives Roy some indication of the intention behind those words. “This about Red Robin, buddy?”

Finally Jason acknowledges him with a nod and eyes the redhead from the corner of his eye. Roy isn’t the closest with anyone outside Dick and Jason when it comes to the Bats (except that one time Damian and he had teamed up which had been nice). The interactions he’d had with Tim were bound by intel sharing and the rare meet up for difficult takedowns.

“Yeah,” Jason sighs out, closing his eyes. He looks pained for a moment before reopening his eyes laced with a determined shine.

He was going to remind baby bird where his place was.

 

“You talked to Tim?”

Babs feels like she is betraying Tim just a bit by talking to Dick at all about the earlier conversation she’d managed to score. All she had truly wanted was to make sure he was okay, that he was being taken care of by someone because lord knows he could get himself in risky situations often with his I’m-a-vigilante-I-can-take-the-hit-and-keep-walking attitude. The Titans were doing their job, she could tell, but he had been shaken up from the incident at the Manor and years of festering hard feelings resurfacing. She was starting to understand why he’d run, why he’d been keen on avoiding everyone, especially Dick’s overly clingy ass.

People often forget besides great leadership and friendship, Dick’s passion could manifest into persistence that felt cornering. Tim was experiencing that, no doubt, anxious of his misplacement, hurt by perceived rejection. Babs could fathom it, could taste the pain on her tongue. Having had a relationship with Dick before, she could attest to Dick’s less alluring habits that had frustrated her in the past.

“I did. I think… I think he’s fine. He’s being taken care of.”

“That’s what Duke said.” Dick leans back against the kitchen counter in Babs’s apartment. He’s at ease here, sipping from the mug he always used, staring off across the room. He still hasn’t heard a peep from Tim : no answering text, no phone call, nothing. It was increasingly frustrating to hear everyone else breaking through the barrier while he stood on the sidelines picking at crumbs. “What did he say to you?”

The question was predictable, she had expected it from the beginning.

This was supposed to be a friendly get together, drink some coffee, talk about things, share a few laughs and woes. She was regretting telling him anything and even more so knowing he expected her to answer all his questions in return, to relay information like they would a case. She’d never held back from him before, not like this, not with one of their own.

“You know I can’t just betray him like that.”

“What?” Incredulous, shocked. “You can’t be serious, Babs. You know I’m dying to talk to him - I just want to know if he said anything I should know.”

This is the Dick Grayson she does not like, this is the Dick Grayson Tim is running from.

They’re going crazy, you know. Especially Dick.

It had been the truth. Dick seemed ready to jump onto anything, desperately pulling apart what he could to get what he wanted without understanding the damage he was causing. And Tim… was like a raw nerve, recoiling from every touch.

I’m not ready. Tim had told her. She could hear the anxiousness in the response, the way it made him sound small and fragile. She’d wanted nothing more than to wrap her arms around him and hold him tight.

“I need to know, Babs.”

Her lip curls at the pushy tone, a demand hardly subtle. “He’s hurt, can’t you see that? If he wanted to talk to you, don’t you think he would’ve picked up the phone or came to visit in the last two years voluntarily.”

His silence is all the admission either of them need. He knows Tim has the opportunity and is not taking it. It’s not a mistake, it’s a tactical choice.

Dick clicks his tongue, annoyance clear. “He needs to come back - I know he was mad before, but it’s been two years. What else is there to say? What does he want me to do?”

“You were part of the issue, you know.” At his look, she continues, elaborates. “Everything with Damian coming, Bruce disappearing, then the battle over who gets to wear the cowl… it doesn’t take a genius to figure it out.”

“I had to,” Dick insists, will always insist. He had to take on the cowl, he had to show Damian the way. Tim had to see that, had to understand it was a hard, but necessary decision. He’d felt bad, had reached out, tried to pull Tim back in. He’d missed him then, he misses him now.

Babs can’t make Dick see passed his own perspective and she is not going to meddle anymore into Tim’s business with any of the other family members. She had already broken part of her promise and the result wasn’t looking too pretty.

“Instead of wallowing in your own misery you caused, try giving him the space he’s asking for and let him come around on his own terms. The slow approach is working, he’s talking to some of us and maybe… he’ll feel comfortable enough to come back. Eventually.”

Dick can telling he’s losing this, there is no convincing to be had in this push and pull. He swallows his pride and nods, remembering what Jason had told him, how he’d halted him that first night he tried to contact Tim right after he’d left.

He starts a different conversation, letting the anguish melt into the back of his mind.

 

The board meeting is in an hour so Tim happily takes the elevator to the R&D department floor of Wayne Enterprises. He’d talked to Tam, had his calls deferred and lunch planned in his office while catching up on some paperwork he needed to review. He’s surprised Lucius hadn’t cornered him in his office when he came in, but expects to see him at the board meeting nonetheless and being grilled about his previous injury and how he’s feeling after.

It starts out so well. The overwhelming days always seem to.

The elevator opens, Tim steps out - and stops. Standing there in the middle of a small circle of R&D workers is Bruce Wayne. He stands tall and comfortable, looking at home among the starry-eyed staff he has employed. His suit is tailored and pressed to fit across his broad shoulders, even from this distance Tim can catch a hint of his cologne, the kind that makes everyone notice. Just as he’s contemplating turning tail and bolting out of the building entirely with some extravagant excuse on his lips, Bruce turns to him with that familiar blinding smile and Come here! gaze.

Biting his lip, Tim walks forward, gathering his wits just in time to flash the employees a big smile. “Morning ladies and gentlemen, been awhile. Sorry to keep you all waiting - I hear some of our projects have been picked up by a few investors recently while I was gone.”

“Your team is doing great,” Bruce chimes in before anyone else can say anything, forcing Tim’s eyes onto him. The praise is obvious and intentional, but the shine in the man’s eyes proves that it is genuine. “This place is in tip top shape being run by you. I almost feel useless just standing around here!”

There’s laughter and good cheer, reassurances toward the big boss everyone loves despite his silly and ditzy persona. Bruce Wayne is a man respected, admired and the kindness he shows has gathered a plethora of loyal and hardworking folk to the company. Tim is also held in high regard, takes his time listening to complaints, checks in when he overhears personal problems from workers, has easy-going mild chatter with everyone he comes across. He’s grabbed the adopted-in-son-riding-daddy’s-coattails reputation and built himself from the ground up as a sincere and honest contributor to the company’s standing and progression. No one could take that from him, not even if he walked away tomorrow, not even if -

He stops to school his expression a little better, but the fall doesn’t go unnoticed. Bruce stares at him with that underlying calculation, picking apart the tiniest of details and changes, cataloging everything he can. Tim is vulnerable here, no mask will shield him from the Batman, vigilante-clad or not. Bruce knows how to read him and with this knowledge, he doesn’t fight the uncomfortable and unease peeking through.

“If you’ll excuse us, Tim and I have to go have a chat about business and all. Board meeting in a few, I hope you’ll all understand.”

There goes the few minutes of reprieve Tim was looking for before getting into the nitty-gritty. Tim follows when Bruce nods to the elevator and gets in without a word, shortly waving to the oblivious staff as the door closes shut. Now isn’t the time to panic, this isn’t the worst thing in the world (I honestly hate this) and it’s not like Tim thought he could avoid confrontation from the infamous Bat-Dad forever, especially after the recent visit to the cave.

“I came to talk.”

No shit. “I figured as much. This is… a surprising way to go about it.”

“Would you have met up if I asked?” Bruce’s smug tone makes Tim pout momentarily, obviously being poked at for his avoidance habits. It’s not like Bruce Wayne, the Batman, the great detective can’t figure out the reason why.

“The board meeting -”

“Is canceled and has been moved to next week. Which I will also be attending, if you’re wondering.”

Tim narrowly suppresses the urge to grind his teeth. So this was the plan : trap him in the building and his office for a private talk to talk without any masks or easy way of escape. He doesn’t stop the bite in his voice when he says,” Thought you didn’t have a lot of time for the company currently.”

It’s why Tim has played it safe by coming in, taking on a huge chunk of responsibility that had once fallen on Bruce and Lucius’s shoulders alone. He knows Bruce is preoccupied with the family (namely Jason and Damian, trying to kindle their father-son relationships, cultivate it into something stronger and more secure than it was before) and the typical Bat-business that entails keeping all of Gotham from burning to the ground. Seeing Bruce here now can only mean he’s been found out and his position is being used to the advantage of one determined adoptive father. Just his luck.

“I’m making time to come back more, be more involved… Lucius tells me you’ve been doing a lot, taking on projects, attending every meeting, double checking management and paperwork. I’m proud of you, Tim and your dedication.” Tim tries his best to not let the happy tingles of praise overtake him, shoving down the emotion harshly. “You shouldn’t have to take the brunt of all the company’s proceedings, I shouldn’t have left it unintended for so long.”

That’s… a kind way to apologize for the stress, but Tim doesn’t need it. “I have it handled I’m doing just fine -”

“I know, I’m not saying you aren’t. You’re capable of many things, I’ve noticed.”

Tim’s mouth clicks shut partly because he doesn’t know what to say to that and also the elevator door has opened. Tim follows Bruce’s lead (naturally, as always, just like when he was…) and is only mildly surprised that they end up in his office instead of Bruce’s a floor up. Tam gives them both a quick glance, curious yet knowing her place not to spring questions on either of them at this moment. She doesn’t know the extent of his ire with the Bats, but she does know he is not on the best of terms with them and has been supportive of his mental break from them all after a brief and censored breakdown.

Shutting the door quietly, Tim notices something he hadn’t before when walking in this afternoon : packed lunches on his desk. Bruce must of had someone bring them up while he was venturing down to check R&D’s progress reports… a sneaky maneuver. The smell that wafts from each already has Tim’s mouth watering, no mistaking Alfred’s homemade, handmade meals. He stand corrected… this was an extra sneaky trick to unleash onto him.

Tim watches as Bruce takes the chair opposite of his desk, already unwrapping his lunch and smiling down at the contents. This leaves Tim with two choices : a) run like a little bitch and take on the shame that comes with it or b) face Bruce and play this game face to face.

He’s always found it hard to walk away, to give up. It’s not within his nature.

Heart beating wildly, he takes a seat at the head of the desk, fingers finding his box with a note on top. Of course Alfred left a note for him. His neat and precise handwriting is a familiar sight and Tim can’t help the smile that stretches across his lips as he reads.

Dearest Timothy,

Inside are the contents of my worry and affection. Eat well and full.

Kindest regards,

Alfred Pennyworth, Proud Butler of Wayne Manor

He looks up to find Bruce smiling at him, the kind that shows the growing crow’s feet around his eyes, betraying his age. Tim clears his throat, feels strong emotions rise up in his chest at the meal that’s been carefully made and packaged just for him. He’s missed this too, Alfred’s cooking, the comfort of his silent yet fierce love of the people he takes care of. Alfred speaks and acts without hesitation, has always made Tim feel appreciated, seen and wanted.

A well-planned peace offering if Tim ever saw one.

Bruce is smiling at him in that fond, fatherly way, clearly pleased by the way Tim is digging in without regrets. They eat in a mock companionable silence for about three minutes before Bruce is wiping his mouth with a napkin like the gentleman he’s been raised and clears his throat. Tim has finished his last bite, chewing slow, totally not stalling for time.

“I’ve heard through the grapevine about the beach attack.”

Ah, Tim thinks, is this all he wanted to know about?

After contacting King Arthur of Atlantis, Tim was expecting a call from the League. He’d filed an official report with signatures from the Titans and detailed accounts from each person’s perspective as well as lab reports on his end. He still hadn’t heard back from Aquaman, half expected this mission to be taken over by the big wigs as was often the case when they thought the “children” couldn’t handle something. Tim wasn’t bitter about that, of course not (he is).

“I made a report.”

“That you did. What I’m wondering -”

 

“My team can handle it,” is the automatic response. He’d done everything by the books, crossed every t and dotted every i. What mistake did he make? What flaw did Bruce find?

So caught up in the whirlwind of his own thoughts, he doesn’t notice Bruce’s concern until a warm hand is reaching across to lay upon his own on the desk. Tim jerks, ready to pull his hand away when he meets the other’s eyes. He is not being judged, he realizes this belatedly, a held breath turning into a sigh of relief. The nerves that are sparking across his arms and scalp dim, the defensive instinct in him that had been unfurled growing dormant once again.

“I didn’t say that,” Bruce speaks calmly, reassurance in his voice. “I was merely inquiring about your opinion on the matter. It is a peculiar case, it’s been explained to me that the… creatures are of an old myth, an Atlantean legend.”

Furrowing brows and a curious look. “I wasn’t told.”

“I asked to be briefed as soon as anything was found out,” Bruce explains with an apologetic tilt of the head. “I asked to give you the information myself. I can give you resources if you need it, although I know you’re more than capable of doing this on your own.”

I don’t want you to. Tim can hear the undertone. Let me help.

It’s an open door, a hand being offered, and Tim isn’t sure if this is a trap or another peace offering. He’s not ready to take this kind of big leap of no communication to working side by side on a case. He appreciates it, really, he’s just… not feeling inclined. And that’s the part that is going to be hard to convey to Bruce without feeling his heart being ripped to shreds.

“I’ll let you know if I need anything,” he settles on saying, but can’t quite look the man in the eyes while he does.

He’s braced for disappointment, disapproval, even a demand to concede. However, Bruce just gives his usual grunt of acknowledgement and nods his head in acceptance. He’s placing his trust in Tim, he’s taking a step back, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t watching over him. It’s both comforting and frustrating, like a toddler being able to run in the backyard while also on a leash. Tim knows it’s the best he’s going to get, to push for more would mean risking an all out seize of everything he is trying to do.

That’s not the end, however, for question time.

“Then let’s talk about the time I was gone.”

And uh oh. Not a conversation he wanted to have ever. He’s about to spew all kinds of things from his mouth, to avoid, to ward off any further investigation. He knows Bruce isn’t going to be happy, remembers the brief staring contest they’d had in the cave, the promise of a later discussion. Dumb of him to think this wasn’t going to happen the moment he saw Bruce after the elevator doors opened.

“I brought you back, Damian became Robin, I moved on.”

“What happened with Ra’s?” There is anger there, Tim can tell. Nothing with Ra’s al Ghul is ever good with his manipulative nature and his idealistic views. It had not been a pleasant experience, dealing with his tricks and praises, ignoring the creeping feeling that lingered long after their encounter where he’d been kicked off a goddamn building. “Tim, please talk to me.”

Tim shivers because, well, the memory wasn’t a good one.

“I needed help to find you. Dick wouldn’t listen - no one would listen. I knew you weren’t gone I just… didn’t know how to prove it yet. Ra’s knew, he always knows. Strung me along, gave me his usual world domination speech, to come to his side -” He pauses at Bruce’s harsh glare at that, the hand still over his own squeezing. He wasn’t stupid, he knew what Ra’s was trying to do, what he wanted from Tim from the very beginning. “Tam found out about my identity, I didn’t mean for her to get wrapped up in this. Then I had the proof I needed, the clue to help bring you back and I couldn’t stop, couldn’t leave you abandoned.”

Tim swallows thickly, the emotional turmoil at the time bubbling back up. He’d done what he had to do then, took every beating, every scar with the knowledge that he was saving the man who he loved like a father, who was his family. Bruce doesn’t stop him, doesn’t interrupt, wants him to keep going until he knows everything, until Tim runs out of steam.

“The Council of Spiders got in the way and then Ra’s tried to pull his usual backstabbing shit and… and…”

“You said,” Bruce finally speaks in a soft tone, gentle encouragement,” that they took your spleen.”

“I got stabbed in the stomach by someone going by The Widower. I was saved by the League, by Ra’s and they took out my spleen to save my life. I guess he thought he could hold that over my head, that my debt to him would make me hesitate to just leave him.”

Tim closes his eyes. He thinks of Z and Owens, dead because of him. He thinks of Pru, her throat red, how he’d laid there in the sand thinking he was going to die. His blind determination had been the only thing to keep him afloat, his loyalty to the Bat, to his family giving him the drive to live and thrive and kick ass. Ra’s had been a minor set back to his goal which he had accomplished.

“I’m proud of you, Tim. Concerned and I don’t want you to do that again, but proud.”

That squeezes a small smile from him. “All in all I came out pretty fine.”

Bruce levels him with a look, brow raised. “You lost your spleen and got kicked out of a top story window, Tim.”

“He got pissed I wouldn’t play his game. I got payback after I blew up a few of his bases. He hasn’t messed with me since.”

Not a total lie. He’d had some… suspicious activity going on when he was going about his day to day as Tim Drake. Felt some watching eyes, seeing people from the corner of his eye following him. That, however, he was going to keep to himself until it became more of a problem.

“I’ll deal with him.” And ain’t that a boneafide Batman promise.

Tim won’t argue, he’ll let Bruce do whatever he wants with his arch-nemesis. Tim is doing just fine, he has everything covered. Bruce’s concern is appreciated, but not needed. A part of him feels better letting Bruce know some of the details, how far he had to go, how dedicated he was to his mentor. It’s like lifting a veil and being seen for the first time in two years, recognized for his sacrifice.

The thought occurs, however, that Bruce explained he’d be around more often. Tim wonders what more he’s going to have to give up in secrets, how much Bruce plans to pull out of him.

And the dread returns.

 

He meets Duke at an arcade in baggy jeans and a sweatshirt with a rip in the sleeve. He’s not Tim Drake-Wayne, CEO of Wayne Enterprises, ward of billionaire Bruce Wayne. He’s just another guy putting quarters in a machine for a little fun. It’s almost late evening, the sky is grey as always with night fast approaching and they’ve got another hour to relax and enjoy “normal time” together before the arcade closes.

“He showed up? Just like that?”

Tim nods, tongue sticking out of the right side of his mouth, a habit when he’s concentrating on modifying his bat-belt, fixing the Ducati or trying to beat the highscore currently set on Galaga. Duke apologizes for this, although it clearly isn’t his fault. Tim had told him about the meeting, but he predicts Bruce had already been taking the steps to corner him.

“Don’t worry about it, you know how B can be. At least it wasn’t anything explosive… and I got my favorite lunch out of it.”

Duke laughs at that, relieved to see Tim is doing fine despite the clear initial upset. The tides are turning, these changes in interactions are slowly undoing two years of insistent silence from Tim towards the Bats. Duke wonders if this is a good thing, if Tim wants this to happen at all. The fact that Bruce and Tim talked, that Tim seemed to mainly take this as a positive was proof enough that the plan the family had described was forming together.

Maybe Tim would come back.

“I talked to Babs too. I think… I think I’m fine if it’s just that. The little conversations don’t,” he stops, distracted for a moment as he clears the next level,” make me wanna run for the hills.”

Unlike Dick and Jason. And Damian. And even a little bit with Steph.

Duke silently watches him for a moment, unsure of what to say. He’s never felt uncomfortable in the presence of anyone in the family before. Everything felt so close knitted and supportive, a togetherness he could get behind. However, he hadn’t been around during the earlier days when Tim was Robin, when Damian was the new kid on the block, when Jason hated Tim and Bruce and everyone wearing the Bat symbol ; hell, he hadn’t even been around when Dick was Batman. There was so much he still didn’t know or understand when it came to the dynamic between the four of them. He was half relieved and half frustrated, wanting to be Tim’s friend, wanting to be a part of their group without conflict. Seemed too late for that now, because as much as he liked the other three, Tim’s predicament called to him and he couldn’t find it in himself to not feel for the other.

What would he have done if it had been him? Duke couldn’t tell. He couldn’t fathom finding out the secret of Bruce still being alive, of going toe to toe with someone who could carve him into tiny pieces. Tim was admirable, someone Duke was glad to call a friend.

“Has anyone else tried to contact you?”

Yes. Is the immediate answer Tim can say for certain. Dick still texts him every day, hasn’t let up since he left. The messages range from sad pleading to cheerful reminders, Steph texted him some funny meme yesterday and he’s been emailing Cass back and forth while she’s away on business in Hong Kong. He’s been less silent in the last week than he has been in two years, the disconnect affectively broken. Tim isn’t sure how to feel about that, isn’t sure why he hasn’t stomped on the progression the moment it started (he had, he tried, he was always so weak when it came to them).

He was in an inbetween place, not comfortable yet not ready to flee just yet. He was… waiting. Waiting for something to happen, for the scale to tip. And maybe that was incredibly self-destroying, setting himself up for disaster. They say curiosity killed the cat, but what of Red Robin?

“Yeah,” Tim relents as he loses this round, signing in T I M as his score pops up, second best. “But nothing I can’t manage on my own. Didn’t you want a go too?”

Duke switches places with him and doesn’t press any further. That’s what Tim likes about Duke, why he stays in contact : he understands boundaries, he doesn’t make Tim feel like he owes him anything, let’s him keep his secrets if he so chooses. Tim doesn’t have to fear any backlash and for that he’ll always be grateful that Duke gives him every inch he’s fought so hard to keep for himself.

Maybe the others will take a hint.

Chapter Text

“Master Jason,” if the butler is surprised to see him show up in an old chevy with bags packed, he doesn’t show it,” I was just taking requests for dinner tonight. Perhaps you have a suggestion.”

“Anythin’ beef.”

“A disgusting choice,” Damian huffs, clear loathing in his tone and expression.

“Watch it or I’ll ask for your cow next.”

It’s a tease he doesn’t mean in the slightest, but the menacing glare the little titan sends his way borders on more than a threat (a possible promise and Jason has to grin at that). He can’t get too distracted, there’s a plan forming in his head, something that he’s been mulling over the car ride back to Gotham from one of his safehouses he’d been sharing with Roy.

First he needs to find Dick.

“Where’s Golden Boy?”

“Grayson went for a run… what are you planning to do to him?” A suspicious stare and really he shouldn’t be fucking with the kid, but Jason is a man of few pleasures and can’t help it.

“You’re not old enough to know that yet, little man.”

He cackles at the reddening of cheeks and stomping of a foot, quickly retreating upstairs to his room before Alfred can scold him. He’ll wait, bide his time, because there’s a talk that has to go down and privacy would be really helpful for it.

It’s half an hour later that Dick comes waltzing into his room, alerted to his presence by someone from downstairs. He’s sweaty from his run, a cooling towel around his shoulders and a wide smile on his lips. Jason doesn’t bother hiding his look of appreciation, Dick Grayson has always been model worthy, someone people admired and envied in the same breath. He doesn’t beat around the bush, chin nodding to the door which Dick closes in compliance to the silent command, eyebrow raising slightly.

“We need to talk.”

A tilt of the head, that bat-training kicking in as Dick tries to predict Jason’s next words. “... is this about Tim?”

Bingo was his name-o.

“I know ya might not wanna hear this…”

“Are you really going to lecture me about how to approach him too?” It was supposed to sound like a joke, but it comes out flat and a tiny taste of bitterness leaks through.

That catches his attention immediately. “Who else needed to yell at ya?”

“Babs,” a sigh of the name, almost wistful. “Said I wasn’t giving Timmy his space, wasn’t giving him time. Two years is a lot of time to me.”

Jason couldn’t deny that. Two years without seeing the face of their babybird should have lit a fire under their asses, but they’d been pacificed by timely reports, flash drives with vital information popping up on their doorsteps, news coverage of the Titans successfully saving a city with Red Robin as their leader. It was foolish, now that he can reflect on it, to think that everything was all fine and dandy after the clusterfuck they’d gone through when Bruce had disappeared. But wasn’t two years enough to clear the smoke?

Tim didn’t think so, and so long as he felt that way then they were in the doghouse no matter how they felt about it in comparison. Jason can understand that.

“Ya always were impatient.”

“I can’t stand this, Jay,” lamenting, almost begging,” I want him back.”

“We all do. But we can’t force it.” Jason runs a hand through his hair, a breath puffed out from his nose, a cross between frustration and acceptance. “And yer too prone to pushin’.”

“And you aren’t?”

Jason had been, he could be, but he knew better than to fuck up a good thing thrice.

“I’m tryin’ to not for Timmy’s sake.”

Dick makes a face, the kind that twists his lips into something almost resembling the Batman grimace. He throws the towel into a hamper with a little too much force than is necessary. Jason is under the impression that he got the message, but he’s not going to act happy about it.

“I’ve already sent him stuff,” he admits, picking a new shirt out from the dresser. He has all kinds of pictures framed there, some of him and Damian, of Bruce and Alfred out in the yard, even a few with Jason when he was younger and now. There’s only two of Tim, just as treasured, one framed of Dick and a younger Tim with a skateboard, another taped to a desk mirror of Tim before the whole Bruce-is-Dead-Oh-Shit debacle. Dick likes to be reminded of his smile, that there were times that had been good, that it wasn’t all in his head.

“So did I. Figured he could use some entertainment while on bedrest.”

So maybe Jason wasn’t as patient either. Sue him, it was a kind gesture, don’t look at him so smugly Dick.

“We’re a hot mess right now,” Dick sighs,

“The whole situation is a hot mess. Doesn’t mean we should make it worse.”

“So what do we do? Sit here?”

Jason nods, tone definitive. “We wait for the others to sow the seeds.”

---

“What’s the news?”

Tim has been compiling information, pouring through history books of any origin he can get his hands on. Aqualad was kind enough to talk to him personally, providing and translating Atlantean textbooks. Piecing things together would have taken a week if he wasn’t so hellbent on staying up for hours rifling through text until the words blurred together and one of his friends caught him not getting regular sleep.

“The myth is a bit confusing. Surface accounts talk about humanoid forms, but the Atlantean texts have them more as… gelatinous. Slow and usually docile except for being stressed or threatened. It’s told it is a rare sight to see them and brings a bad omen if you do.”

“We saw over a dozen,” Gar reminds. “What does that mean for us?”

“Some bad shit.”

---

Duke likes Harper and Cullen, they’re fun to hang out with and they don’t give him a hard time about the things he likes to do. The abandoned sewing factory about to be bought still has some creepy graffiti inside, a couple floors to explore with machines and forgotten tools strewn across rusted tables. He likes exploring relics, Gotham City has many to offer for the picking.

“Have you heard from Tim lately?”

He expects the questions, Harper has been real nosy about the whole thing. It appears he’s one of the only people Tim has responded to willingly that’s associated with Batman and company ; he’s not sure whether he should be flattered or not. All Duke really cares about is keeping the peace and not losing these strong friendships he’s acquired.

Makes it tough when everyone is glaring into your back seeking answers you can’t freely give.

“I don’t know,” he answers them, climbing the creaky stairs. “Tim is doing his own thing, I guess.”

“I miss him. He’s the most fun to hang around.”

Duke can’t contest that, he also likes hanging out with him. He gets distracted by an old sewing machine on a dirty table, poking and prodding as he investigates. The problem with being the middleman in this is the constant questions, each member trying to crack him open like an egg, set to the frying pan as he gives up all of Tim’s secrets. Too bad he won’t.

Dick had been the worst of the bunch, his detective skills combined with natural charm had almost made him slip up. Of course they missed him, Duke did too.

“You think he’ll come back?”

A shrug. “He comes around when he wants to. He doesn’t need a leash.”

“We’re his family,” Harper argues, kicking a rock across the ground, the soft thunk! of it hitting the wall. “He can’t just ignore us.”

“Actually he can,” Cullen points out.

“It’s not right!”

“It’s not right he has to fight so hard for himself,” Duke says and maybe there’s a little anger in his voice. He’s starting to see what Tim sees : the smothering, the expectation, the uncomfortable feeling that settles in your gut when you know you’re being used and the disappointment in knowing it’s by someone you trusted. There’s intricacies in this family he is beginning to unravel and understand, things he doesn’t like buried beneath the cheer and camaraderie. No family is perfect, no person is either, but what Tim is facing is something the people he needs to understand don’t get at all.

It’s frustrating to witness and even worse to be a part of.

“He’s got friends, he’s doing okay. If he wants to, he’ll be back.”

“I hate waiting,” grouses Harper.

“I’m sure he did too,” voice dripping with annoyance,” when he waited for two years for anyone to come talk to him.”

---

“You need a break, buddy.”

Tim sighs. Of course he does, all he’s been doing is analyzing notes and a foreign language for the last ten hours. He’s hungry, his body knows that, but his mind is reeling with thoughts of probabilities and contingency plans, too eager to slow down.

Good thing he’s got nice friends that make sure he takes care of himself.

Gar is already handing him peeled oranges on a plate, stepping carefully around the books and papers on the floor. Tim takes it without hesitation, popping an orange slice in his mouth, a pleased hum bubbling passed his lips. He focuses on eating as Gar looks over some of the text, perplexed expression kind of cute.

“Is any of this making sense to you?”

“I just finished this paragraph,” Tim explains, pointing at some scribbled writing. “I’m not sure how accurate anything is. I feel like we’re missing a piece of the puzzle.”

“What do we do if we are?”

“Keep looking, keep digging. Test results aren’t back yet from the League on the substances we got from the beach…”

Gar hears the question beneath the statement. “Want me to do a check-in? Rae and I have been meaning to drop in.”

“Only if you have time. If I have to I can…”

He could always contact one of the Bats, he’s done it before, and it’ll be easier now that they’re trying to get under his skin again. He isn’t sure he’s ready to willingly open that can of worms after everything that’s been going on, caution and stubbornness making him resistant. Trust is something they have to earn, but Tim isn’t going to make it easy for them either.

“You don’t want to,” Gar points out after a moment of silence.

A sigh of,” No, I really don’t.”

“I got your back, buddy. Hey, I got friends up there too that should be willing to help without any ulterior motives.”

Tim takes another bite of his snack, chewing thoughtfully. “If you can grab Aqualad, I’d appreciate it too. I have some questions about these pictures within the older texts. I think these creatures had a queen, like a jellyfish queen, or whatever these things are.”

“A jelly queen.”

“Yeah, like a queen bee. It would be beneficial to understand the social dynamic of these things, whatever they are. They attacked the beach in a formation, intelligent enough to pick a place with plenty of targets and a direct path to the city.”

“That’s a scary thought, I wasn’t really thinking that.”

Scary indeed, Tim thinks. Why did they attack random people? What was the motive?

“Well, that’s all the time you get to ponder,” Gar teases and turns into a tiger.

Tim has maybe five seconds to sit in peace before he’s picked up by the collar of his shirt, pulled up and carried away. He sputters, kicking a little at the floor with a pout, but ultimately gives in. He’s never won a battle like this when any of the Titans have challenged him. He’s not surprised to be taken to the living room, a blanket and pillows waiting for him, alongside Cassie and Raven.

“I was starting to think Gar needed help reigning you in.”

“Haha, very funny. I’m not a horse.”

“No,” Raven says with mirth,” but you look like a kitten.”

Tim doesn’t bite back at that, plopped onto the couch by Gar before a big furry butt is laying on his legs, pinning him there. Cassie and Raven settle in too, Cassie’s lap with the pillow over it the perfect spot for Tim to have his hair played with.

He could complain about how Gar is going to make his legs fall asleep with his weight, or that he doesn’t want to nap on the couch or that the movie Raven picked is something they’ve seen before. He won’t.

He’s settled, happy to be cared for. Tim can feel himself easing, blanket tucked around him to keep him warm, fingers massaging his scalp as his eyelids begin to shutter once, twice then shut.

Questions about gelatinous monsters will have to wait another day.