The warmth around him was nice. So was the softness under his battered body.
"Break a leg," was the last thing he remembered. Oh wait, no. He actually remembered literally breaking a leg. When he landed after cutting off the noose that should have killed Judas.
No, should have killed him. If not for the prop knife - his real knife - that he had used to slice the damn rope. The fall did not kill him, just broke his leg and shattered the tibia and fibula of both legs.
And his career.
Because this place... this place doesn't take breaks. When you're out of the spotlight for more than a day, you're gone. Forgotten. Shoved under the horde of others like you who are willing to give more than you ever did -- than you ever could.
The pair of arms were the warmest he's had all year. The softest, yet firmest, pair of arms that did not try to roam anywhere but circled around his chest. The warmth sparked the little ember of hope in his chest. Maybe, just maybe, things will turn around.
If anyone said that theater business is easy business, Tim Drake has decided long ago that he would shove up his camera to where the sun don't shine in said person.
Tim knew the theaters well. Too well, some would say. His parents were third-generation theater actors whose fame and fortune were indistinguishable from most. They were constantly away, and Tim was left in the care and guardianship of a local actor whose fame was even more unsurpassed to the point where he could pick and choose his roles as he pleased - even before the age of 30; Bruce Wayne.
Bruce Wayne, unlike most actors who are artistically driven and not much else; has wisely expanded his wealth to encompass not only the theater, but into studios - for movies and recordings; prop-making industries, even an animation agency. If the Drakes were third-generation stage-actors, Bruce Wayne's lineage would have been considered as the Royals of stage-actors - with great-great-great immigrant grandparents whose presence in the Old World were well documented through the United Kingdoms and European stages.
Much to his parents' dismay, little Tim showed even littler penchant for the dramatics, and more alike to his maternal grandfather's technocratic mind. He'd thought it was ironic. His mother had ran away from home to join the theaters, while Tim had metaphorically ran away from theaters to find a home. Bruce Wayne's businesses had bridged the two worlds perfectly. And Tim had not hesitated to jump right in.
Just... sometimes he wished he'd joined sooner. Like, maybe by the age of five or so. Especially when he watched the likes of Dick Grayson or Jason Todd or Barbara Gordon (prior to the car accident that left her paralyzed) - or even Bruce himself - flitted and fly around the stage in various roles. No, he has no wish of picking up any of the costumes, thanks. But if he had been placed here earlier, he might have been able to record more of their performances and life behind the stages through the years.
It was quite a fluke, too. Tim's dad had gotten him a camera, a DSLR camera - probably with the hopes that Tim would show some interest in the arts. Tim did - in the arts of photography. He mastered the camera and rigged it to the point where just about every picture he's gotten would come out perfect. He'd also learned to use an older, film-based camera, under the tutelage of Bruce Wayne's trusted assistant and Stage Director, Alfred Pennyworth.
He still would not touch a script other than to photograph it artistically.
Tim supposed that it was then that his parents gave up on him - kind of. Maybe. Tim was not sure. It's not like they'd gone out there and leave him to get another child. They'd just... up and leave. That was it. They would send him postcards, sometimes even video-called him when they have a few minutes to spare between fittings. But... yeah.
And Tim suddenly found out that here, at the very least, he was not lonely. There were a lot of people required to make a single night of production, and the job did not end with the closing of the first day's curtains. Nor did it end with the last curtain call. While other theaters around the world were floundering, Gotham's love for the stage performances - both musicals and non-musicals - were thriving. There are three other major production houses in Gotham, and they were all thriving - albeit some moved in a less... desirable venues than the Wayne's.
The first were the Cobblepotts, whose clientele were of the rather too-well-known of Gotham's criminal world: Mafioso, Triads, Yakuza, and other organized crime families tend to flock to the Cobblepotts' production, with the main purpose of exchanging nefarious deals under the guises of the vaudeville shows. The performers were supposedly the 'up and coming' - mostly of foreign nature and could barely speak English beyond the required stage presence, and most likely came by illegal means.
And then there was the Kane's, which more closely resembled the Wayne's - given the fact that they are actually related. Jacob Kane, the ultimate owner of the house, was Bruce Wayne's maternal uncle. Yet with Jacob's daughter, Kate, taking over, the productions have started to lean toward the more 'progressive' side, figuratively speaking. Kate would hold either new and unconventional stage materials coming from leftist writers; or old conventional materials with twist toward the LGBTQ leanings. Kate was a lesbian, and proud of it. She has no qualm with holding a production like Tommy or Hamlet with all-female or all-male cast members, or flipped the genders of the main characters.
Personally, Tim thought watching a frock-wearing girl-Romeo climbing the walls of pants-wearing boy Juliet's castle was hilarious. But it was refreshing, nonetheless.
The last house was the Elliotts, which would mostly run political-themed shows. The Elliotts' was the least successful of the production houses; with Mrs Elliott running it while his only son ran away to - of all things - attend medical school. Tim could actually sympathize with Thomas Elliott, the son. He reckoned that if he was stuck with his parents, he might have ran away, too.
Fortunately for Tim, his parents were not the business-managing kind of actors. They were just that, actors. They did not care much of the money or business side of the industry, and would just go out and make plays as much as they can. While they have managed to set up a sort of a trust fund for Tim's future college fund, they virtually have naught but their fame and acting skills to show for. They did not even own a house, instead opting to rent apartments when they were in town.
When Bruce Wayne discovered that Tim was left alone in an apartment while they went overseas, it took him 45 minutes to get Alfred and pack up everything Tim owned, call up the Drakes, and secured Tim's custody. All he said as the clincher was: "at least you won't have to pay for an empty apartment while he lives with me." And thus Tim came into Bruce's custody when he was a little over ten years old.
His 'discovery' was quite incidental, too. Since he'd gotten the camera for his ninth birthday, Tim was literally prowling the theaters, looking for colorful objects to photograph. The safest of the theaters was - obviously - the Wayne's. Plus his parents knew Bruce Wayne in person and was not worried that Tim would get hurt or anything. And then there were quite a number of children his age there - mostly from the lesser-fortunate part of town and a part of Bruce's Community Theater program.
Tim had been taking photographs of everything and everyone for more than six months and actually started making friends with Bruce's adopted sons, Dick Grayson and Jason Todd, when Bruce realized that he was coming to and going home from the theater alone. He was aghast when he finally decided to take Tim home, and found out that he was staying there alone.
Forty-five minutes later, a fax was sent back and forth between Bruce and the Drakes, providing a document that state that Bruce Wayne shall be Timothy Jackson Drake's legal guardian in the event of his parents' absence and/or unavailability by any way, means or form.
When his parents met their end in an airline accident somewhere in Italy a year later, Tim officially became Bruce Wayne's ward. Tim was twelve. And if Bruce Wayne would lose his younger son, Jason Todd, who'd ran away to find gold that glittered in California; maybe it was for the better for everybody.
Except for Tim. He knew that Jason's running away was his fault. Before Bruce had gotten the official adoption papers, Jason was okay with him. He would even sometimes gave Tim some special poses; ones that would absolutely capture his mischievous face and joy of living. He would even sometimes share cookies or cakes or whatever food he has at hand with Tim without even asking if there is more. He had cared for Tim. And the adoption papers had ruined it all.
Chapter 2: Chapter 2
He was the 'teflon kid'. Not a single thing could stick on him, even as a young child. He'd gone and done through the worst the city could have given him, and emerged nice and squeaky clean - like teflon.
Admittedly, he never knew what a 'teflon' was until he'd gotten out of the streets. A nice man, a very nice man had given him a home after his mom had died. After he'd spent a lot of cold nights in that man's constantly warm theater house. He was given a home, a job, a brother - and a dad (even a granddad who wouldn't be caught dead while being called 'grandpa'). Those were the good years. And then things started to change.
He remembered when dad got a new kid, all paperwork written-down, ready, pre-prepped, coming from a good, solid pedigree. Cute as a button. And he'd felt kind of betrayed. He'd liked the kid, he knew. A little buddy to play and hang out with and who would look at him as if he'd done roped the moon and hang the stars. A small little thing who'd wanted to be around him and soft-like with big blue eyes, pearly-white skin, and charcoal-black hair.
He knew he'd been angry all the time then, thinking that this kid would be there to replace him one day. There's only so long one can lay down the lines as a cute and hilarious ham. There's only so much patience people has for smooth cheeks and blue eyes and impish good looks that's fading into a chiseled, rugged, teen rebel. He'd known from way back then that to survive, he would need to evolve, be something better. Break free from all of the constraints given to him and be something else.
The streets taught him that. The streets also taught him not to put all of his eggs in one basket. So he'd left.
He remembered leaving, the argument, the statements that he would be better than ever. He remembered the determination that he would be better than 'dad' ever was.
And better he was. The sounds of adoration and adulation had filled his days and nights since he'd walked away to follow his impulses and wants and needs.
Until he broke.
Jason Todd, Tim knew, was special. His mere presence on a stage, even as a 'tree', could command extended attention from both men and women alike. He was still somewhat scrawny and gangly for a 14 year old, but he could hold himself taller even from Bruce.
It was not a surprise when he and Dick started to fight for presence on the stage - and off the stage.
On stage, it was beneficial for all - except maybe for Cullen Row, the lighting guy, who would have a hard time deciding on who to shine a focusing light on. But for the audience and ticket masters? Every time a play come up in which the two of them would be on stage together, ticket sales would go through the roof. Productions that have the two of them as compatriots would end up being run for longer than their planned schedules. Productions that have them in opposing ends of the story would end up having waiting lists for tickets.
While Tim would openly admit that his attraction for the colors of the theater had come from Dick's 'Puck'. But as Dick grew up and took the Lysander role instead, Jason's version of 'Puck' had really caught Tim, hook, line, and sinker. If Dick's 'Puck' was witty, charming, and funny; Jason's 'Puck' was witty, charming, and a little more wily and straightforward.
Tim would forever lamented that it was Puck that ended up making Jason leave. If he'd had known better, he believed that he could have prevented Jason from leaving. At the very least, he could have tried to convince Jason that he would not need to feel threatened by Tim's presence in the Wayne household. That he was loved, greatly, by Bruce, Alfred, and Dick... and by Tim.
Jason Todd was a street kid. Orphaned when his mother died by the time he was ten years old, he had literally lived on the streets - homeless - before he wandered into the theater in search for warmth. And food. And some things to pilfer. Bruce had caught him stealing the gold-lined tires of a prop bicycle. Instead of throwing him to the streets, Jason ended up living and working in the Wayne House, first as stage hand, then as understudy, and then he took on roles after roles voraciously. It was Puck - and subsequently, Peter Pan - where Jason shone his best light and life and make a new lore out of Peter Pan for the citizens of Gotham.
Tim had heard Alfred remarked that those two were the roles where Jason did not act, and merely brought his own personalities to fore. Tim could definitely see Jason as Peter Pan, protecting the Lost Boys and Wendy and her brothers from the evil that is Captain Hook. But then again, he could also see Jason as the embodiment of Puck, a mischievous rascal who only wanted to have fun, yet was willing to do everything to make things right; man enough to apologize and accept his fault, yet wily enough to suggest that everybody else was dreaming.
Jason had been playing Puck for a little over a year when he was requested to fill the role at the Kane House when Stephanie Brown, their Puck, fell ill. Normally, Bruce would not let his performers perform in the other houses. But Kate was his cousin, and three days before the premiere, she had called him - frantic - begging him to 'loan' Jason. Apparently, a critic from some Broadway-based magazine was going to be in the audience, and Stephanie's understudy was not as agile as Stephanie. Kate did not want to present a play without its full gusto. Plus, it was a one-night only performance, anyway.
Jason, on a break between productions at the time, had agreed because he "couldn't stand to see a lady beg."
The play itself received somewhat tepid review, except for Puck. Specifically for Puck. The critic guy, a person with the name Jack Napier, practically frothed in the mouth when he described the hilarity and 'air of darkness' of Jason's Puck. He had also approached Jason backstage and offered him a chance to audition for plays in Hollywood.
Bruce, understandably, was livid. Jason was only fourteen, turning fifteen in the next month. Not legal in any way, means or form. Tim could still remember the screaming behind Bruce's closed office door.
"You're not my father!" Jason had screamed.
"No, but I am your adoptive father, that gives me the rights of deciding." Bruce's slightly calmer voice had replied.
"Still, you've worked me to the bone, anyway, and I'm sure some social service people would gladly overlook your fame to rescue me." Jason had sneered blithely. "Plus, it's not like you're gonna lose anything! You already has another Puck lined up to replace me, after all!"
"Don't be absurd, Jason. This is a theater, not a sweatshop. Plus your working hours are aligned to the ones determined by Professional Child Labor's Guild." Bruce had replied. "Furthermore, you'll need special licenses and permits to work in the performance industry in California..."
"Jack will have those ready for me!" Jason had snarled. "Admit it, Bruce, you just don't trust me enough to let me off on my own. Maybe you forgot that I've been on my own since I was ten!"
Tim had cringed a litle when he'd heard that part. But he had not moved from his perch on the beams of the roof where he could capture numerous photographs without the subjects realizing. Nowadays, he wondered if he should've gone down and said something. Jason was his friend, after all. His favorite.
Instead, he had merely caught photos of the fight. Of Jason's angry face. Of Bruce's stoic and silent expressionless anger.
Tim had put on Puck's costume three months later, giving his own twist of a deranged and evil Puck, and none of the luster of Jason or Dick's version. He had gotten on stage for approximately 24 times as Puck. The critics said he was... 'edgy', 'cutting edge', 'brave'... But Tim knew that he was merely a placeholder. He hated acting, but he could pretend.
Chapter 3: Chapter 3
It wasn't a sunny day, he suddenly thought. Maybe because that fateful day looked a little like today; gloomy. slow but steady rain for hours on end, followed by a massive storm that brought on a mini-apocalypse to the land that usually don't get much rain at all.
Not like his home back East. The damn city would spill out a variety of bad weather at random, at all levels of severity, for days.
Maybe that was why he'd not even wince back then. Everyone around him was edgy, he'd noticed. He had automatically thought that things would be secured and double-secured - as he was wont to do back home. 'Dad's' motto of 'always be prepared' - even to the point of obsessiveness - was still instilled in him.
Yet he'd fallen. Failed to secure his own safety.
There was a snap, and his life flashed before his eyes before his instinct kicked in. And then another snap, and he didn't remember much afterward, just flashes and fragments.
Today, though, he huddled in where it's warm. Warmer. There were two warm bodies around him, huddling protectively. Smaller than his, sure. But they were using his body heat as much as he did theirs. On hot nights, there would be a little space between them - far enough to not suffocate one another, but close enough for one to react if danger should come by.
He's okay, he thought. Wet and wild weather outside, but he's warm and dry, here.
They had all heard of the accident that had happened a year after Jason left the Wayne House. It was in an outdoor staging of Jesus Christ Superstar, and Jason was playing Judas. The accident mirrored all the supposed 'curse' of Judas - a near hanging. Everyone in this business believed that the play was cursed. There have been a number of accidents surrounding Jesus Christ Superstar; three of which (that Tim knew of) had taken the lives of the person playing Judas. If it had not been Jason, he'd probably have died.
There were numerous cellphone videos on youtube that showed how Jason was literally hanging for thirty seconds before he'd pulled out a switchblade - from where, Tim did not know, the play did not require actors to have prop weapons, after all. But the switchblade, and Jason's quick-thinking, had probably saved him.
Or at the very least, saved his life.
They had heard of the news over a month later - literally by fluke. Once he had hung Puck's costume, Tim dedicated himself to research and rewriting scripts for the House's plays. He was idly browsing youtube videos to find ideas for the next play, and had decided on the Jesus Christ Superstar one. He'd noticed a number of accidents on youtube's suggested clips, mostly involving Judas' act of hanging himself, but he was not interested in seeing the morbid accidents' videos. That is, until he'd stumbled upon a clip that showed Jason's face.
The video, and a dozen others from different angles, showed how he'd plummeted the 20 feet drop; another showed the paramedics carrying him on a gurney, both legs splinted. Even while being carried out with legs splinted, Tim could see the grotesque bent of the broken legs, as well as the tears of pain on Jason's face.
Tim knew he would never forget the unabashed looks of shock on Bruce's, Dick's, and Alfred's respective faces.
By the time Bruce had reached Los Angeles, Jason had disappeared. Likewise with Jack Napier. Bruce had spent over three months in Los Angeles looking for Jason, going to each and every nook and cranny where homeless people would have gathered. They all had relied on the small solace knowing that the coldest nights of Los Angeles would not even be near Gotham's 'normal' nights. Or so Bruce had told them - Dick and Alfred and Tim - whenever they'd called to check up on him.
Dick had managed to hold the House together for a few more months after the three months had passed, but even he was starting to panic when the media started to openly question Bruce's sanity. When a brothel disguised as a burlesque house opened right across their building, it was Dick's last straw. He'd begged Bruce to come home - they have seven hundred people to fend for, damnit, Bruce!
Bruce had eventually relented. Slowly, painstakingly, the Wayne House rose back up through a barrage of classic plays and short sessions. Actors and actresses rallied, at times memorizing three plays at once; one for this week, one for next week, one for the week after. They exposed the Harley Quinn's house as a brothel and gambling den (Tim did, that is; he'd sneaked in there and took a lot of photos) - and surprisingly, found Jack Napier to be a majority shareholder of the Quinn House (it was Tim's doing, too. He was just curious. Really.).
And Tim had realized, almost a year after Jason had gone missing, that it had been Napier's scheme from the start. Break the Wayne House, take away their most promising star; break the star. Somehow. And they were all blind to it. Until Tim saw Napier's company name in the Quinn House as a majority owner. As in, 85% majority owner.
Bruce, ever the sunny-side-up disposition, didn't say anything when Tim told him that. Dick gave him a fleeting pained expression. And Alfred and patted him on the shoulder, not saying anything.
Barbara, on the other hand, was livid.
"You know what we can do?"
"What?" Tim had asked back, morosely.
"We go find Jason and prove to the bastard Napier that we are what we are: a family. Not just a business."
"Ideas would be good right now, Babs." Tim had all but groaned.
"Sure, all of us have physical obligations to be here - except for you and me." She had said. Barbara does the books for the company - as in all books of all lines of businesses that has the 'Wayne' name on its paperwork. She had done it without even having to leave her loft, if needed be. Her only reason for coming to the theater had been her relationship - on again, off again - with Dick. Tim had noticed that her eyes twinkled when she talked about the 'physical obligations', and the emphasis on 'physical', and if Tim had known better, he would have...
Well, no. Tim would have said yes even he had known better.
Chapter 4: Chapter 4
He has no idea how he'd gotten here.
Some of the fragments in his mind showed him flying. Or at least he'd felt like he was flying. Only it was not like in his old home. There, he would feel the harness around his body, and there would be people close - sometimes within arm's reach for him to high-five, sometimes they would veer apart as he passed through. But there would be that harness strapped tight around him.
His last flight was anything but.
And then there were blood. Pain and blood. He couldn't even be sure whether either were his. But there were blood, he knew. Icky and sticky and coppery-smelling and warm. Not prop blood, he knew.
He shuddered a little, prop blood smelled sweet - the sweetness of maple syrup and dye. Real blood... the last time he'd seen real blood was when he'd punched someone--
Oh wait, that was yesterday. Maybe. Or the day before. Or last week. He couldn't recall. All he recalled was that someone was trying to hurt a little child. A boy? A girl? Both? Neither? Or was it himself?
His head started to throb a little from the effort of remembering and he sighed. If it was worth remembering, he'll remember.
"You're definitely nuts." Stephanie Brown had told him. Stephanie, now joining the Wayne House, has turned out to be quite a valuable asset for the House. Although lacking Jason's air of mischievousness, she was as quick-witted and willing to walk the extra mile to bring life to her performances. Besides, she had admitted, "I owed it to Jason for holding down the fort and taught me a thing or two." She had practically diminished the 'edgy' and 'cruel' out of Tim's Puck and put on her own twist of sass and mischief. Or so the critics said.
Stephanie had also been the one who encouraged Tim to do the scripts - "expand the theater's repertoire," she had said. "Adapt new plays to become classics." And she had often expressed her admiration of Tim's deftness in adapting a great number of writings into stage plays.
Today, however, she was not impressed.
"How do you fare looking for a lone person in a city with twelve million inhabitants? And that's not including the suburbs." she argued over the waffles of the diner.
"We look diligently." Barbara deadpanned. "Bruce's searches were... haphazard at best. He was just pouncing at every mention of Jason's existence without considering the possibilities. Furthermore, he had searched right away at homeless areas. Only homeless areas. What if he was living with somebody?"
"Jason was a street kid once, Babs, the possibility of him holing up with someone is... fairly small." Tim pointed out. "He doesn't trust most of us to begin with, and I'd think that if it wasn't for Alfred, he wouldn't have stayed with Bruce for so long."
"Jason had also worked the streets, Tim." Barbara said ruefully. "He knew how to make money out of nothing."
"With those broken legs, he'd be an invalid for a good chunk-- oh! Sorry..." Stephanie blurted, belatedly realizing Barbara's wheelchair.
"I'm paralyzed, but I'm not an invalid. So don't worry about offending me." Barbara said dryly. "But that's not wrong. I'm quite worried that he could... he would need pain meds, and there's always a chance that..." Barbara pursed his lips together, not saying anything more.
Tim knew what she wanted to say. There's a chance that he'd turned to street drugs and end up a junkie. Like his mother had.
"Addiction is genetic..." Tim muttered under his breath. "But in Jason's case, I'm willing to bet that he wouldn't fall so far to that point. Hopefully. I mean, I don't know much about broken bones except that one time when I'd broken my arm. They hurt for like, five minutes, but then I just felt numb. They didn't hurt so much when they were in cast, either."
"Gotta admit, I never broke my leg, either. I don't know how it'll feel..." Stephanie said. "You wouldn't have to lean on your arm for most of the time. But legs?"
Tim cringed. "Yeah, uh. Any thoughts, Babs?"
"None came to mind. I didn't exactly broke my legs. I'd broken my spine." Barbara reminded them.
Tim sighed. "Okay, we'll..." he gulped before continuing. "...keep that thought in mind."
"Here's another: you actually expected Bruce to let you two off on your own? --After what you've found out and the fact that Napier is still out there?" Stephanie pointed out.
"So just because I'm disabled and Tim is a kid, you think we can't face Napier?" Barbara deadpanned. "How cute." In spite of being a disabled person, Barbara was an expert escrima stick fighter. She had been teaching Tim all these times, since Jason left, as well as Dick teaching him numerous martial artistry - 'good to keep one's body limber,' according to Dick. 'Also helps with the dances.'
As much as he couldn't argue with Dick's logic, Tim thought that it was just Dick's guilty conscience speaking. He knew that Dick had thought that if it had been him free-falling instead of Jason, he'd be able to flip halfway through the air and perhaps even landed softly on his feet. Then again, Dick had come from a long line of aerialist before his parents were murdered by means of sabotaging their trapeze lines.
"Hey, I'm just concerned, okay? And also pointing out Bruce's likely reaction if/when he finds out." Stephanie argued.
"Don't worry," Barbara said. "Besides, Timmers and I could use a vacation. What better place to chill out than sunny Los Angeles?"
Chapter 5: Chapter 5
Somebody had brought food. Leftovers. If there is any difference between here and home, it's that there are more leftovers down here than back home, while the portions remained of the same size. People here do not need as much carbohydrates to keep themselves warm, he guessed.
He, however, needed to eat. He knew from experience that food were not as easy to come by when you live like he does. He gobbled up the entirety of the portion he was given, momentarily hoping that there was nothing inedible and/or hazardous and/or poisonous. Kicking away the slight thought of hoping the food would be poisonous so that he would die. No, he did not want to die. He wanted to survive this. He'd done it before, he'll do it again.
"Course of action?" Barbara wanted to know.
They made it to Los Angeles by the first week of June - after a lot of arguments, cajoling, threatening, and finally begging for Bruce to allow them to go.
Well, Tim assumed that there would be some valid, logical aspects of Bruce's argument - since they would be using his jet, anyway. And his penthouse at Wilshire Boulevard. And his car... --okay, maybe there were lots of valid aspects of Bruce's arguments. But it was not like he was hurting for cash, anyway. Barbara made sure that the company would still run for the next decade, if run progressively (e.g. if they spend a lot on beers and chips, for instance) instead of conservatively.
Either way, Tim and Barbara are now securely (and oh-so-comfortably) lodging themselves in Bruce's penthouse at Downtown Los Angeles. The penthouse was not only comfortably situated smack in the middle of the Downtown area, it was also highly secured. "Because Bruce is a kind of a paranoid twerp, Tim. And we're the conspirator of his paranoid lifestyle by having such appalling sense of self-preservation." Barbara had said dryly.
That, in Tim's mind, actually kind of explained how Napier decided to get to Bruce through people, instead of by other means. And as much as he did not want to admit, his brain was starting to spout out numerous conspiracy theories. He was quite surprised when Barbara, of all people, actually agreed with him when he sounded his suspicion on their way to Los Angeles.
"It makes sense," she had said. "Bruce, and in essence, the Wayne House, is the only house that has never wavered or even catch any kind of scandal in the past few centuries. Stands to reason that some people would want a part of it. Or see it fall. Whichever comes first."
"Right? I mean, Bruce's parents were murdered - yet the house did not fall, thanks to Alfred and Lucius Fox," Tim clarified. Lucius Fox has been the House's Marketing Agent since time immemorial. Between he and Alfred, the house could virtually run itself while Bruce would busy himself by looking for other ventures. Between the three of them, the Wayne Entertainment Incorporated had grown into a virtually self-sustaining business, and adding Barbara's uncanny financial management skills to the mix seemed to put the business template into solid concrete.
And now, sitting comfortably in the Penthouse, another thought struck him. "Maybe I'm getting over my head here, but I'm not sure that Napier is the last of the line of beneficiary..." he mused out loud.
Barbara glared at him. "Explain."
"Well, the one thing I know in entertainment business is that you don't need money, per se, more than the name behind it - to get ahead. Napier's first 'business' venture was as a Media Critic, generally easier to get in to than the operations-side of the business." he explained, feeling the explanations starting to cluster haphazardly in his mind. "And then the social media age came, he was starting to become obsolete, since most of his work was on printed media. So he's trying to get in to the operations by teaming up with a burlesque-slash-adult-entertainment side. i.e. Harley Quinn and her troupe."
"I'm starting to see a pattern here, but keep going." Barbara encouraged - reason number 46,587 why Tim loves her.
"But to move to the mainstream, he would need to have a name that is solid."
"Won't it be easier if he would just join Cobblepots' Iceberg Lounge? They do adult entertainments there, too." Barbara argued.
"It is in a short run, but in the long run?" Tim countered. "It's like, you know, porn actors trying to make a name for themselves in normal, or even family-based movies? It may happen, once in a blue moon - like Stallone or somebody like, ultra lucky. But it required a hell of a lot of hard work to turn your image around."
"I... am not going to ask how you know that, and I'd rather simply concluded it's part of the trivia world you're so well-versed in. But okay, I see your point." Barbara grinned mirthfully. "So now, boy wonder, where do we start?"
"Napier's assets." Tim decided.
"You're gonna tell me you've got a list of them already, aren't you? Because I don't think you're getting us all the way out here just to google."
Tim gave Barbara a withering glare. "I'm not inefficient." he said haughtily, presenting her with his tablet.
"I know you're not, that's why I grabbed the chance to bring you instead of anybody else." Barbara accepted the tablet gleefully. "I do not, however, think we should go alone to these addresses. I have a backup plan, and I hope you do, too."
"I take it said backup plan would include an adult..." Tim said dryly. "Even though I'm quite capable of protecting myself."
"An adult I would trust with your welfare, yes. Plus, it's not like you can drive, Timothy." she retorted.
Well, okay. At 15, Tim definitely could not drive around. Not to mention that Los Angeles area was really not made for walking. Bicycling, maybe, although that would likely end up with Tim having calves the size of Bruce's massive biceps.
"Won't there be a chauffeur with the car?" he tried. He really was not looking forward to have a chaperone.
"That is optional, but I do not trust random strangers like a chauffeur. Not especially ones whose name do not start with 'Alfred' and ends with 'Pennyworth'. So no, tomorrow morning, you will meet my friends - one of whom will travel with you, the other will travel with me. Not objectionable unless they are proven ineffective." she said with finality. "Now, shall I left you on your own devices in the kitchen while I rest, or will you burn it?"
Tim grinned sheepishly. "I think I'll be utilizing the obnoxious amount of takeout menus I see hanging on the fridge. You want disgusting food or hipster food?"
"Something Tex-Mex would be nice, I guess. I'm going to take a long bath, and you better have something edible by then."
They'd spoken in tongues around him, he'd heard. None of them knew that he understood them.
"<You crazy enough to take the boy away from him, you bastard, then you should be crazy enough to eliminate him!>"
He hadn't recognized the voice. But the language was Hispanic - a learned language, not a street- or birth-earned language. He'd suspected a white, upper-class somebody being there other than... than the horror that is the clown. He had not heard the reply, only that it was followed by a lot of loud noises. Ugly, loud noises. The last time he had heard those kind of noises, cops were later seen leaving the apartment next to his after taping the door with bright yellow ribbons.
And then he was leaving. He'd had no idea where to, or how. Just that he was leaving. Leaving all the noises behind.
And there was a lot of blood in his line of sight. Only he wasn't sure if it was his line of sight or his own eyes. Maybe it had been him bleeding. Maybe he'd caused the bleeding, he couldn't be sure. He knew there were others - warm, soft bodies.
And then everything was cold and chilly again. There was so much pain, too. And he'd kept moving. Somehow, his brain had told him to keep moving, ignore the pain and just keep moving. That keep moving would be his best bet to survive.
Barbara's friends were... scary ladies, if anyone would ask Tim. Fortunately, no one would ask. And they looked... well, Dinah Lance and Helena Bertinelli looked like they'd just walked out of 'The Gladiator' movie set - almost complete with Roman gladiator garb. They were both tall, and even if Tim's brain said that Barbara would've been just as tall if not for her wheelchair, the two ladies still looked imposing to him.
The three of them, Tim thought, looked very colorful - with Barbara's flaming red hair and fair skin, Dinah Lance's platinum blonde hair and peachy-tan skin, and Helena Bertinelli's jet black hair and dark chocolate skin.
And yes, he did not hide his surprise well when Helena said that she was a primary school teacher. "Does that mean I'll have to call you Miss Bertinelli?" he asked, only half joking because he did feel like he was still in Primary School.
Helena was glaring at him, and Tim hoped that she would at least be amused.
"You're... what? Ninth grader?" she asked.
Tim frowned. "I've graduated high school last year." he scowled. Yes, he was small even for 15. But he still has time to get some much-needed growth spurts, surely. Like one or two - or a dozen.
She looked surprised. "Well! A genius, Barbara? Who'da thunk it." she smirked.
"I would. His grandpa was Jeremiah Galavan." Barbara said, almost smugly. "The guy who almost singlehandedly built the wastewater treatment plant in Gotham. Even when everyone was laughing at him. I'm not surprised that Tim has his brain."
"Here I am thinking that Bruce would only take people with high theatrical aptitude." Dinah Lance said.
"My parents were stage actors." Tim told her. "That's how I know Bruce. They... left me in his custody when they died."
"That's nice of them..." Helena quipped. "So close in the heels of..." then she paused.
"He didn't take me in to replace Jason!" Tim snarled. "I was officially adopted before Jason left!"
"He never take anyone to replace anybody," Dinah said, practically calming him. "Bruce takes orphaned children because of his own deep need to make sure you won't be lost in the system. Like some of his..." she paused and meet his gaze, "... earlier acquaintances." she finished. Tim suddenly got the thought that by 'acquaintances', she had meant herself.
"Matter at hand, ladies." Barbara reminded them.
"I'll go with the little genius bird." Helena stated, her voice sounded challenging.
Tim just sighed. He was not in the mood for arguing. It was already past 10.30 and he felt that they would be kind of wasting time if they were to argue on who rides with who. "Whatever." he said. "Can we go now? The addresses were arranged by location, anyway, and we've got some solid 33 thousand square miles to cover." he cringed inwardly, suddenly thinking just how small Gotham City suddenly felt.
"Relax, kiddo. We'll find him." Dinah patted his shoulder gently. "Bruce should've..." and she pressed her lips, willing herself not to say anything more.
"I don't disagree, Bruce should've asked for help back then. But that door is closed already. Now we move on." Barbara didn't snap, but her tone implied so. "We will find Jason. Even if it means knocking every damn door in the whole county of Los Angeles."
"Babs and I can start at the north side, from here onward to Antelope Valley areas." Dinah said. "You take the beaches?"
"Will do." Helena said.
"It's not like my wheelchair would be bothered with the beaches, you know." Barbara cocked her eyebrow at them. Her wheelchair was specially made - lacking the back handles because she didn't like to be pushed by anyone else; and has reinforced all-terrain wheels.
"Nothing to do with your wheelchair, hun. Southward are usually populated with family ones. While northward are veterans and otherwise." Dinah replied calmly. "They see your wheelchair and they'll be more inclined to talk than otherwise."
"Psychological query." Tim acknowledged.
"Yes, little bird, you got that right." Dinah gave him a finger-gun salute. Tim almost grinned.
Their plan for today was to prowl the homeless areas, as well as stopping by at Napier-owned buildings or whatever property he has. Tim was a little proud that Barbara did not shot down his suspicion that the reason Bruce hadn't been able to find Jason right off the bat would have been because Napier had somehow hidden Jason somewhere. He was not at any hospitals back then, and the only record of him showed that he was checked out of LA General Hospital a week after he was admitted. Bruce had even pulled all the stops by asking a load of favors from his friends to ask if any of the private rehab centers and/or hospitals would have had Jason there - to no avail.
Hence, really, Tim's suspicion that Napier was not what he appeared to be. Not 'merely' a stage critic, but was hiding something else. When the Harley Quinn club opened a mere few months after Jason went missing - based on the date of the accident and his last known whereabout as he was signed out of the hospital, Tim's suspicion was vindicated.
And his suspicion lead him to poke around the internet and unternet - the dark side of the web - to find out who the hell this Napier guy really is. Said poking around also provided him with a list of assets belonging to Napier, mostly in Los Angeles County area - much to his relief; a small number in Gotham. Dick would poke around at the Gotham ones - excluding Quinn's club - with Barbara's father, James Gordon, in the guise of finding a place for himself. James Gordon, the city's Mayor, would be a good smokescreen - no pun intended for his smoking habit, really - to hide their true purpose.
Tim has to begrudgingly admitted - albeit inwardly - that explaining the general gist of things to Helena was easier now that he has had time to mull it over and brainstorm it with Barbara. They have barely gotten a block away from the Penthouse when Tim's presentation of his theory finished.
"So how is it a brainiac kid like you get roped to the ever-glamorous world of showbiz?" Helena asked. "Yeah, I get it that your folks were in it. But you could've gotten yourself a scholarship somewhere, MIT? Ivy? I mean, why stay?"
Tim fiddled with the camera on his lap. The camera would be their cover story - building Helena's portfolio at interesting locations, or having her pretend to be a reporter if all else fails. "Why should I?" he asked.
"Why should you what?"
"Why should I go for technical stuff just because I'm a genius?" he pressed. "Why can't I be in arts, just because I can work out how a supercomputer works, or how a robot can move and walk and talk at the same time? Why can't I be a painter, or singer, or photographer?"
There was a few good seconds' worth of silence following Tim's questions, and he knew he'd stumped Helena.
"You're right. I actually never thought of it that way." she finally admitted. "Most of the kids in my school are average. There are a few with above-average intelligence, and they all tend to lean toward sciences."
"They do that because through science - things that has absolute, numerical and alphabetical quantifier - because they can prove their intellects through it. How about languages? Did you know that the English language - while the second most spoken language in the world, has significantly less amount of words? As in, it has only one word that defined art: 'work'. Bengali language has five, Russian has four, Arabic has five. That, to me, is interesting. Would you like to know how I found that out?" Tim asked, almost coyly.
"Okay, I'll bite. How did you find that out?"
"Jason Todd told me. People tend to think him stupid, just because he was a street urchin and didn't get to be schooled to show his academic skills. But he speaks five languages fluently. All of which he'd learned on his own by reading the books at the library. Is he not a genius, then?"
"Ah," she nodded. "I get it. There are many types of genius, and the more visible ones are those with science-based aptitude."
"Yes, that should answer your question on why I'm not interested with scholarships. I don't need them to do what I love. And what I love is--" Tim suddenly clamped his mouth shut, realizing his true motive in doing this. It has nothing to do with what he loved to do - taking photographs, sharing the printed evidence of things he could easily pull out from his memories with vivid details. Not because he'd wanted to 'save' Jason. Not because he didn't want to see Bruce upset and stressed.
He wanted to do this so that he could earn his place within the Wayne family. He wanted to prove that Bruce taking him was not a mistake. So that Jason would stop being mad at him. So that Jason would come home.
Before Helena could finish her questioning, thankfully, they were approaching their first target location,
Chapter 7: Chapter 7
Today's food was Chinese. Or at least what looked like Chinese food. There was a half-eaten box of rice, half an omelet that has a ton of little pieces of carrots and peas, and noodles.
All were boxed, all were partially eaten. And those were the ones presented to his face. The others - whoever was giving the food to him - has theirs, he hoped. He'd offered the food to the shadow next to him, and the shadow pushed his hand back.
They were out here with him. He presumed they would know that food needs to be eaten all at once, as much as possible. Tomorrow there might not be any.
There wasn't any yesterday, was it? Or was it the day before?
Either way, there was a small child, he knew. The small child tend to be left with him for a long time. He wouldn't hurt the child, and whoever was leaving the child with him knew that.
Maybe the person leaving the child was a responsible person who would try to find food for them all. Maybe...
He hoped the person was not doing crime to do it. It was easy back home. No one would have noticed him around, and he was small enough to slip everywhere, and agile enough to escape from chasers who would chase him if he'd pickpocketed.
But there were times when he'd had to... resort to unsavory things. No he would not hurt people. But people never seemed to have a qualm about hurting him. Men, supposedly 'respectable' men of the society. Men who'd had no interest in helping anyone but themselves.
No matter. As long as there were money to be had.
He hoped, though, that the responsible person did not have to resort to the things he'd done.
Tim had wondered earlier if his blatantly expensive camera would seem 'polite' enough to show around people who has no home. But a few hours later, after walking around tents and makeshift homes that littered the South LA area, he suddenly got an epiphany of how wrong he was.
"They're not poor people." he said to Helena.
"No, they're not. Just homeless because of a lot of things. Mostly because they couldn't pay the mortgage or rent of their homes due to sudden joblessness." Helena explained grimly. "The price of the city's skyrocketing housing cost."
"Yeah," Tim mumbled, feeling only a little less guilty for having the camera only when he saw someone sitting under a makeshift tent out of tarps calmly typing away on a sophisticated laptop he knew cost more than his camera. "How do they store their valuables?"
"Literally sleep on them, or have them under the jackets." Helena shrugged. "There are families living in their cars here, too, so they'll keep the valuables in the car. Those with a few extra twenties might keep theirs in storage warehouses."
"I see," Tim answered rather numbly. "I don't think Jason would be here, though."
"You think he'd be in where the nutcases are?" Helena asked curiously.
"Yes, those who are homeless by choice or by illness. Locals call them the nuts since... well, everyone here would practically jump at the chance of being housed again, and them nuts just won't. Some were too mentally ill to care, but not so ill as to be dangerous to others so that the cops can't arrest them." she said. "Sorry if I sound heartless. But living here a while, you get yourself numbed to these kind of situations and just fight your damnedest to not get yourself in this situation." she added.
"You're a schoolteacher." Tim said, his mind already racing with ideas at Helena's words.
"Well, yes, so?"
"If - god forbids - you find yourself homeless, where would you go?"
She shrugged. "I've got a car, so probably here. Around here where I can park for free or for a fiver." she said.
She cocked an eyebrow at him. "I'm a woman, and here's mostly family people or married people? It's safer?"
"Jason was a street kid back before Bruce found him. He is used to live among the homeless. He was homeless before..." Tim muttered, memories of Jason telling him how not fun his life was before Bruce and the theaters flooded Tim's mind. "Take me to Skid Row." he demanded and made a 180 turn to go back to where Helena's car was parked.
"What? Why? I mean, he's technically a kid, remember? Why would he..."
"Skid Row is near a lot of entertainment facilities, the Staples Center, Bradbury Theater, museums, Walt Disney's Concert Hall..." Tim rattled off.
"Well I'm aware of it, Mr Tourist. So?"
"There are loads of restaurants there, too, and it's a dozen blocks away from Chinatown - where there are even more restaurants and eateries. Plus, it's basically a homeless district. All kinds of homeless people are there." Tim explained as they got in the car. "Jason knows how to survive on the streets and how to not rely on anyone, as long as he's in the right area. If he'd been dropped somewhere at - say, the furthest point North, near Napier's place in Burbank, or the furthest point South of Napier's place in Cypress, he'd instinctively make his way toward where there are street life." Tim explained. "That's what he'd told me then, 'just go to where there are people like you, and pretend you're one of them'."
Helena's grip on the wheel was pretty tight, to the point where her knuckles went white. "He might not survive too long there, though, if he has no money."
"He knows how to make money - and there are tourist areas there." Tim pointed out. "I know I'm right."
"We'll need to be careful though, kid. Some of the people there, like I told you, are mentally ill." she warned.
"You've also said that they're not mentally ill 'enough' to be dangerous to the public. So I'm not worried. But I think I'm gonna drop my cover and say I'm looking for my brother." Tim huffed, and added quietly. "Technically, he is my brother, anyway."
"Didn't Bruce look there?"
"He did, but he didn't find him there. I think Jason was being dumped away from Skid Row. But I believe - like I said before, he'll make his way there. He might have just crossed paths with Bruce."
Helena did not even hide her grimace. "Ouch, the B-man's gonna be sooo pissed..." she quipped.
"Or he could be hiding from Bruce, you know? I mean..." Tim paused, gulping around the sudden lump that appeared in his throat. "Speaking of fall from grace..."
"Hhh... figurative and literal. Okay, hiding I could wrap my head around. But crossing paths...? That would just be... fate being cruel." she said.
"Or... I dunno... Somebody probably had kept him away from Bruce's searches back then? Sorry... I've read a lot of whodunit..." Tim said sheepishly.
Helena cringed again. "Yeeeah, that's a little out there. But I'm not discounting that theory. I mean, this guy Napier went his way to nab Bruce's star attraction away. Who's to say he wouldn't work harder to keep Jason hidden? I mean, Jason is a minor. Legally speaking, Bruce should have been contacted the instant he was harmed. Even in Hollywood."
They exchanged quick glances. "Now you're thinking like me," Tim pointed out, almost gleeful.
"Kiddo, I know a place that sells custom-made tinfoil hat to fit that big brain of yours." Helena smirked. "I've also been around showbiz long enough to know that the payola scandal isn't the only scandal hidden by showbiz."
Chapter 8: Chapter 8
Ooof... drama and life hath disrupted my posting schedule... Anyway, here's Chapter 8. As usual, comments and kudos are greatly appreciated! <3
To say that there were nutcases on the streets - living on the streets - would be like saying water is wet. A little bird once argued with him that water, technically, is not 'wet'. That 'wet' is an explanation for the way water adheres itself to surfaces. That fish - technically - do not understand 'wet' as much as camels don't understand 'dry'. He'd replied - he remembered - that fish and camels don't have enough brain to process state of beings etc etc, and that the argument had started with water and ended up with philosophical debate on life in general.
The streets and nutcases - or as the little bird said once upon a time ago: people whose brain are not working right and/or typical - are like fish to water, he supposed. The streets/water don't give a damn that there are humans/fish living on it; the humans/fish living on it don't know that they're wet. Both living creature and un-living situations reacted on basic instinct. So how can the 'street/water' have instinct if they are not sentient?
The little bird was stumped, then. He'd said that he would need more data of whether or not the 'street/water' is sentient. Of whether a city is sentient. Of whether the Earth is sentient.
He remembered that he'd laughed, enjoying the silly heavy talks with the little bird.
He absently pinched the bridge of his nose at the sudden throb that appeared behind his eyes. A little bird, he remembered. He could not remember why a little bird, he just understood that he has a picture of that little bird in his person at all times. He pulled out the photo from his pocket and looked at it, and a sense of calm befell him. The throbbing behind his eyes slowly dissipated.
A thought suddenly crossed his mind that maybe, just maybe, he wasn't right in the brain, too. Just like everybody else here. He smiled to himself, not so much to the blur of a small person in front of him. Maybe the blur wasn't a person, at all, just his nut of a brain's wish for a person to be there.
But then again, he was always alone, wasn't he?
It took them 40+ minutes to reach 7th Street, and another 15 minutes to look for parking. Helena absolutely refused to park her Maserati on the streets. Even after Tim pointed out that there is a Bentley sitting around right by the corners of 7th and the ironically named Wall Street.
"I don't care if they have an actual millions-bucks worth of stock exchange going on right there at that Wall Street, Timothy. I'm not parking my car on the streets." she stated. "And you might want to guard your little camera a little more. Most people here aren't... criminals. But..."
"Yeah, yeah... junkies and nuts." Tim huffed. From there, Tim could see tents littering the streets, like on the South Bay area.
"Wow." he muttered under his breath. "Are they all born-and-bred Angelenos?" he wondered out loud.
Helena shrugged. "Probably not. I don't think LA has anymore indigenous people since..." she smirked mischievously.
Tim quipped, "...since the Quichan and Yuman tribes were wiped out?"
Helena chuckled. "Ninety nine percent of my entire school's students wouldn't be able to fill that in. What did you do... read up the entire California history up to the day of the Gold Rush?"
"I have eidetic memory," Tim reminded idly. "Why did they end up here, anyway? Just out of curiosity..." he added hastily. "I mean, yeah, the economy pretty much tanked right now. But... you know, why don't they just..."
"What? Go home? Where?" Helena finished for him. "My home is in Gotham. If life gets bad enough here, I can probably go home and hog Barbara's couch for a couple of months. But I have quite some inheritance from my late parents. What about you? If I strand you here and you don't have Bruce on speed dial, what would you do?"
Tim blinked. Like Helena, Tim actually has a sizable inheritance from his parents - in spite of their inability to keep an asset. His college fund, for instance, would remain there until he's 21. Barbara has been helping him to make investments that should allow him to save up until he could acquire a house in Gotham's suburbs. Or a plush apartment in Downtown Gotham. Plus, the Wayne House actually pays him for his photography that are used in their promotional items. If he did not want to, Tim would not need to work a day in his life, provided that he would live modestly.
If he were to move to Los Angeles - given that Los Angeles actually has lower living cost than Gotham, Tim could probably live just as he was. Unless he'd fallen to the glitz and glamorous lifestyle and started spending beyond his means.
"I would technically be fine," he said. "But I guess not everybody has an inheritance to fall back on, huh?"
"Not everybody has friends or families to go back to, either." Helena nodded. "I fear that Jason thinks he doesn't have anybody to come home to..."
Tim gulped. If that was the case, then his job would be much harder. "If he does, then I'll have to convince him that he was wrong." he decided, pressing his lips together to a thin line.
Helena observed him quietly for a little while as Tim surreptitiously eyed the homeless people around them, looking for Jason. "Your heart is in good place, Tim," she finally said.
"But my brain is in for an impossible task?" Tim finished for her.
She smiled, a little ruefully. "No, that was it, really. I'm just thinking that Jason is incredibly lucky to have a family that loves him so. And I pray that his being here is not by his own free will."
Tim skidded to a halt and Helena almost slammed onto him. "What??" she gasped.
"What's 'it'?" she demanded.
"Why Jason wouldn't go home. Or call home. I refuse..." he turned to see an older man wearing an army jacket glaring at him. "Hi," he called.
The man gave a small wave back. "You looked like my little Bobby." he drawled.
"Uh, thanks?" Tim replied hesitantly. "Uhm... I'm actually looking for someone..." he pulled out a printed out photo of Jason. One of the photos he had made for Jason's portfolio, actually, a few months before Jason left. He had been planning to give the portfolio to Jason - but Jason had stormed away without even saying goodbye. "He's my brother." Tim said, a little more hesitant. In spite of the similarities between he and Jason - and Bruce, and Dick, actually - of the black hair and blue eyes, he doesn't really think he could pass as Jason's brother, at all. Dick's, maybe, since they both have straight hair. But Jason's wavy hair looked more like Bruce's.
"Cute kid," the old man said. "Go to the Arts District. Some kids stay there among themselves - if they haven't got kicked out already."
"Okay, thank you." Tim smiled at him. "I hope things get better for you." he offered, not knowing if he should offer money or what.
"Kid, ain't nothin' would get better for me anymore. Nothin' is since my baby died." The old man sneered. "Just pray that your brother there can still be saved." with that, he turned and walked away.
"That..." Helena started after a few beats of silence. "...actually didn't go too bad." Tim turned and promptly noticed that she was holding a small, collapsible baton.
"Seriously?? A weapon??" he snarled.
"Kiddo, nuts or not, I'm not gonna walk around talking to people without some sort of protection on me." she scowled back.
"He didn't even look dangerous!" he huffed, walking toward the Art Districts at the Eastern corner of the Skid Row area.
"Kiddo, really. Your heart is in the right place."
"Whatever!" Tim snapped.
Chapter 9: Chapter 9
Fixed a little plothole on Paragraph 2. This, folks, is why editing is the true food for the soul.
Bright red. He saw flashes of red. Most things around his world were red. His blanket is red, he knew. Not a blanket, really; but once upon a time, it was red. His shirt was red - he thought. Whatever color it was today, he was quite sure it was red. Probably some time when he'd acquired it from the trash can, before the dirt and grime from the street stained it.
There was a red-breasted birdy in his pocket. There was once a little bird in his life. Both were gone, and he did not know where they went. But he was quite sure that it had been his fault. Everything were his fault. He was not strong enough. He wouldn't follow orders. He wasn't smart enough.
Thoughts jumbled to and fro in his brain today. There have been too many noises around that had disrupted his day. He hated the loud noises - police cars passing by, voices screeching somewhere in the distance, bangings of god knows what. He'd been keeping himself safe, under the blanket. Things can go by over the blanket and he would be okay.
There were noises of people talking near him. They sounded like they were under water. Or maybe he was the one under water.
He could hear the person calling him, thinking that the voice had come from the person he usually shared his space with - the one with the little kid. He peeked out from under the blanket, and immediately focused on the male voice. He recognized the male's form, curly hair, brown skin, kind hazel eyes. There were other forms that were mere human-shaped blurs in his eyes.
One of the blurs knelt in front of him. There was something about it that didn't scream 'danger' to him, and he waited. The blur showed him something. Something in a rectangle it was holding in its hand. Something with long, soft, flowy red hair.
Something that felt like home.
He tentatively reached for it.
Surprisingly, the old man was right. Just a few corners from the Art Districts, Tim noticed a few lumps of... something? someone? -- covered in tarps. On impulse, he approached the reddish colored one and tapped the foot area. Or at least the spot he thought where a foot would be.
Somebody else called out, "hey, don't bug him!"
Tim startled a little, but then noticed that the guy calling out to him was only a kid around his age, with a messy afro and brown skin, wearing several layers of clothes and probably pants, too - likely to make himself look bigger. "Hi," Tim greeted him politely, and noticed Helena a safe distance away behind the guy. "I'm not planning to bug him. Can you... have you seen this guy?" he offered Jason's photo again.
The boy studied the photo for a moment and then snorted. "Can't believe that's him... but yeah, he's the Red Hoodie kid." he pointed to the red tarp. "But you don't wanna bug him, really. He gets vicious." he added.
"Why?" Tim was more startled at the meekness of his own voice. "He's... he's my brother... Is he okay?"
The boy looked only slightly skeptical before he shrugged. "Not really. He was like that when he got here. Snorted some bad drug, prolly. But he ain't hurtin' us and gets vicious when people nag us." he said proudly. "Up all night to watch out for us and sleeps all day while we watch out for him."
"Who's we?" Tim asked curiously.
"Me and my lil sis. He did good by us."
Tim studied the boy, seriously couldn't be much older than Tim. "Are you here with your folks?" Tim asked carefully.
Maybe it was because Tim was as young as he was, maybe he didn't notice Helena loitering nearby, but the boy seemed relaxed. "Naah, our mom got busted coupla months ago for hooking. No dad, ever. She'll be outta jail next week and we're good. Red's been lookin' out for us." he said, adding, "He your brother?"
"Where do you live, usually?"
"Compton, baybeeh. But don't sweat it, buddy. We been on the street before. Mom was hookin' 'cause she was lookin' for some cash for food. She got fired, y'see." he explained. "I'm Danny."
"I'm Tim," Tim accepted the extended hand. "Where's your sister now?"
"At Hope, they have a daycare there."
Tim definitely gulped, silently hoping that the boy meant the sister was working there instead of being cared for in there. "How old is your sister?" he croaked, inwardly cringing at the obviously illogical thought: if the sister was working, the boy wouldn't need to be on the streets now, would he?
"Four. She's not like, really my sister. Just like, half sister, right? But her dad is an asshole and got himself killed in a drive-by and my momma gotta support her and me. She got fired from her school - she was a teacher, see. Not that it paid much, but without it, she's got nothin'." he shrugged. "What's your deal, man?"
"I..." Tim hesitated, looking at the lump that was supposed to be Jason. "I'm looking for my brother. We're... not related. But we're both adopted. And he... I guess he was angry when I got adopted, too, he thought I was there to replace him." he explained, deciding as he went to give just about 75% of the truth, "he ran away. Our dad's been looking for him, and I finally decided to come here with a family friend. I was hoping I'd get a better luck..."
"Lucky," the boy - Danny- said. "I'm too old to get fostered and would end up in a group home. My sis could end up at some random pedo's house." he shrugged. "But anyway, mom'll be out next week, anyway. He's been helping me get some cash for the bus fare to county jail. So we're good. --hey Red! Somebody's here to see you."
The bundle shuffled, and the head part finally uncovered itself, showing a bush of jet black hair and a white streak on the bangs. Tim almost thought it was not Jason, until the guy opened his eyes.
And Tim swore he would never be able to forget those eyes. In spite of both their eyes being blue, Tim's were more indigo whereas Jason's were more turquoise. Thanks to his camera, Tim also knew that there was a little imperfection in Jason's right eye, a fleck of hazel among the blue-greens.
He was more alarmed at the blankness of the eyes, though, although he knew that behind the scruffy beard, the guy was definitely Jason. A lot bigger than the last time he saw him, but still Jason.
"Jason?" he called out tentatively, surprisingly calmly considering he wanted to yell and jump and maybe high-five Helena or something. "Would he run...?" he asked Danny carefully. Jason was still staring at him blankly.
"Naah, he knows he's safe here. We look after our own, right, Red?" Danny replied. But there was a note of pensiveness that was audible enough to make Tim turn and look at him.
"You're scared that I'm gonna take him away and leave you and your sister unprotected." Tim hypothesized.
Danny gave him a nervous laugh. "We'll get by. Just a week, right? At least he'll get healthcare or something."
Tim finally met Helena's eyes. "No, it's not right." Tim said. "Can you do something? If not, I'd rather have them in Bruce's place." he asked Helena. He noticed that at the mention of 'Bruce', Jason's eyes started to blink rapidly.
Helena sighed. "You know what? Why don't I go get my car and we'll think about this later..." she said. "I got the feeling that you're just like daddy, Tim... you can't just let something like this pass."
"Absolutely not. Hey, Danny, how far is Hope daycare?" Tim asked, deciding something in his mind.
"Not far, why?"
"Right. Here's the thing. Jason trusts you, and he probably doesn't remember me - he's been gone for over a year, after all. I've probably physically changed than the one he remembered. Miss Helena here will go grab her car, and then you'll help me load Jason into the car, and then we'll go to where I'm staying." Tim said. "You and your sister can come, too, and you can stay there with me until your mom gets out of jail. Or, maybe with Helena. I don't know yet. I'll figure something out on the way and set something up. I'm not gonna leave you here on the streets alone."
Danny glared at Tim contemplatively for a good long while with one crooked eyebrow, as if trying to decide if Tim was nuts or lying.
"I'm not nuts, I'm not lying. Helena, please? The soonest we can get Jason out of the streets the better." Tim prompted as he pulled out his cellphone and called Barbara. "Babs? I found him." he said immediately as soon as Barbara picked up the phone.
"Tim, you're a magic worker, I swear. Can I talk to him?" Barbara replied, the relief in her voice palpable.
"I'm putting you on video call. Maybe he'll recognize you."
"Recog-- wait, what?"
Tim predicted that Jason would react strongly to Barbara's face, and he did. Jason's eyes began to tear up as he saw Barbara's face in the phone. He reached for it, and Tim handed it over, watching as Jason cradled the phone in his hands. Barbara reacted just as Tim hoped, she continued talking to Jason - saying whatever it was in her mind, probably, that calmed Jason.
While Jason continued cradling the phone in his hands and looked blankly at Barbara's face, Tim turned to Danny and Helena expectantly. "You guys have a problem with my other plans?"
Helena smirked fiendishly. "Tim, buddy, at this point in my life, if your plans include the invasion of Normandy, I'm just gonna start rolling my sleeves and pack an overnight bag."
Chapter 10: Chapter 10
Yeah, I noticed a little inconsistency in the previous chapter and have fixed it. Sorry 'bout that.
It all sounded wrong. The red in the box. Yet it sounded right, too. He felt that he was moved, somewhere, out of his safety-- the blanket. His fort that is his safety. Somewhere else cramped and smelled like fruit and chemicals.
A hand was extended toward him, followed with a pair of gentle dark blue eyes that felt... safe. Safer than the blurs around him. He took the hand, but didn't lower his legs from the cushions until the little girl came in and spoke to him. The scenery outside changed rapidly, but the little girl chirped along with everybody else and assured him that he would be okay.
Everything else was a big blur until he found himself on a couch. A comfortable couch, unlike the ones he would find on the streets - obviously. But there were no stars in the sky - not that there ever was in the skies of Los Angeles. The air felt chilled, but stale-- bottled. And he mourned a little, for the freedom he must have lost again, this time; for his little bird, gone with whatever meager possession they must have taken away from him, again; for the boy and the little girl, still with him from the sounds of her voice nearby, just probably not for long.
He sighed, a little dejectedly as he watched the activity and people talking around him without understanding. It was odd, that his brain could not understand. He was good with languages. Once upon a time. Before hell rained down on him. Before the wrath of... whoever or whatever deity that hated him befell him. But it was all his fault, anyway.
What else is new?
It seemed that seeing Barbara's quite an emotional response, and Jason's likewise response to Barbara finally convinced Danny that they were all somewhat related.
"How do I know you're not a pedo, dude?" He demanded once they managed to get Jason in to Helena's car, along with some meager possessions that... well, that Helena deemed worthy to be put in her car; which do not 'smell or looked like it hasn't seen a detergent or soap in twenty years.'
Tim gave him a withering glare. "I'm fifteen. You're sixteen. I believe 'pedo' requires the monster to be an older person." he deadpanned.
"She's an older lady." he pointed out.
"And I can assure you, young man, that I have no interest in men whose age start with the number one, or are yet to be able to legally buy liquor." Helena retorted.
"She's actually a school teacher, you know." Tim said. "Maybe..."
"Don't make promises you can't keep, Drake." Helena warned.
"Not making any, just a suggestion." Tim shrugged, taking the front passenger seat and partially turned around to look at Jason. The latter was huddled in the backseat, hugging his knees and looked...
Tim blinked in confusion.
...scared. That's what Jason looked like.
On a whim, he extended his hand toward Jason. After staring at Tim's hand for a long moment, Jason tentatively took it and held on.
"You'll be okay," Tim told him. "Whatever happened, you'll be okay. I promise..."
"What did I say about promises you can't keep?" Helena scoffed.
"I don't care, Helena. He will be okay. Whatever and however." Tim said, solemnly promising himself that.
"Well... I'm going in to get my sis... Won't be five minutes. But if he freaked out..." Danny warned them as the car pulled over in front of the Hope Center.
"We'll holler." Helena assured him. As Danny slipped out of the car, Tim started to feel the tremble.
"Hey, hey... you're alright... Jason, you'll be okay, I promise..." Tim soothed him, rubbing his thumb to the back of Jason's hand - still lightly clutching his. "I know... I know you're scared. Whatever happened to you..." he continued, keeping his voice soothing and low. "it's not your fault, okay? I'm here to help. We're here to help you go home."
Tim kept talking softly, with Helena watching, until Danny came back with a 4-year old girl in tow. She glowered at Tim and Helena before her eyes landed on Jason and she bounded into the car. "Hi, Red!" she cooed.
Jason didn't reply. But he didn't object either when the little girl firmly took a seat on his lap. He had released Tim's hand to hold her with both arms.
"This is Ellie, my sis." Danny explained. "I told her we're going to a hotel with some really nice folks." he glared, as if expecting Helena or Tim to challenge him.
"Babs and Dinah would've gotten some food," Tim said. "...I hope." he added.
"Dinah has... handled homeless issues before." Helena replied, a little grim. "Just... food for thought here, Timothy, we're not in Gotham. Nobody here cares enough like Bruce Wayne to start something to help everybody."
Tim nodded. "I know." he acknowledged. "Just... I'm not stupid, okay? I'd love to help whenever I can. But I know where I'm standing."
"We don't really need your help, you know." Danny said, a little huffily. "I toldja my mom would be outta jail next week."
"And then you think she'll go back to prostitution, or can find a job on her own thereafter?" Tim asked softly. "It's just... Gotham, where I'm from, has this kind of problem, too. Back there, we have someone who's willing to help those who need it - like your mom or you. Here, honestly, I don't know if anybody will. And if what Helena said is right, nobody would. You'll need all the help you can get, Danny." he added.
Danny was quiet for a long moment, and then said, "I can get a job. I just haven't found any so far."
Tim nodded, but said nothing. "Yeah, we'll figure it out, man. Just... give us a week, alright?"
It was only once they got to the penthouse, and met Barbara's glare, that Tim started to wonder if his plans would backfire at some point.
"Bruce is flying here right after curtain down tonight," Barbara told him. "I've told him that Jason might need a physician, so he's bringing along Dr Leslie Thompkins. Whatever you have in mind for those two - and probably their mother, next, I hope you have or will think it through, Tim."
"Yeah, well. No I haven't. But I've checked with the Teachers' Registry and their mother is registered there. She was laid off from a private school due to downsizing - not because of any complaints. Babs..." Tim pressed his lips, "do you ever think of how hard of a decision it would be for a teacher to go down the road of solicitation to feed her children?"
Barbara's sigh was soft, but right there. "I am a woman, Tim." she reminded, and Tim could feel the flush rising up in his cheeks.
"Yeah, just... you know, even those of the same gender can sometimes be insensitive of their own's plight. ...Not saying you do, that is. Just..." he backtracked quickly.
"Timmy, baby, your compassion is stellar. But..."
"...if Bruce had thought of having 'saved' only one person, Dick wouldn't be there. Jason wouldn't be here. I wouldn't be here. And that's not putting names or numbers to the Narrows and Park Row kids at the community theater of each area." Tim snapped. "I don't understand people's obsession with numbers. Yeah, it might take me a shit load of cost to try and help one person. Yeah, I'm a kid, and maybe I don't have that kind of money. But at least I can present to those who can help - can set aside some of their resources to help. Like Bruce, maybe. Or Kate. Or anyone.
"Even if it doesn't work in the long run, Babs, at least I've tried. It's better than doing nothing, right? If everyone who 'wants' to help eventually do nothing, where do those who have less get their second chances? I know I'm not a god who can just will everyone to prosper or suffer less. I know I didn't waste my vote on the stupid idiot we have to refer to as 'the President' who'd made people suffer indirectly and directly. But at least I don't sit around and do nothing other than clucking my tongue and twiddle my thumbs!" Even as he wrapped up his speech, he quickly became aware of Helena and Dinah's glare from behind him. He screwed his eyes shut, feeling foolish.
He understood that his wishes were wishful thinking. Tim was smart enough to understand that it would take more than a few weeks at the Penthouse or a few jobs offered to make sure Danny, his sister, and mom wouldn't need to suffer and/or live on the streets. He just... didn't see why he shouldn't try.
"I've called my boyfriend, Ollie," Dinah suddenly said. "He told me that his friend, Michael Holt, has just opened a business here in LA that's looking for new employees. I'll see if he can save up a few slots." Dinah's boyfriend Ollie - Oliver Queen - was a businessman whose businesses tend to lean on the sustainable green businesses. Michael Holt, Tim knew from the plethora of articles of him in various magazines, has a technology-based company that has since blown up bigger than Apple and its contemporaries.
"They... and their mom - can stay over at our place while they look for another." Helena said. "No need for Wayne to keep this penthouse open while our place can handle them."
"We don't need charity!" Danny suddenly burst in .
"Danny..." Tim started, but Dinah cut him off.
"Oh no, buddy, this ain't charity. I'll bill you and your mom once she got out." Dinah told him. "You should consider this as being put on credit."
Danny seemed to contemplate the thought for one long moment, and Tim could feel Barbara tugging the back of his shirt, likely warning Tim to not interfere.
"Okay, fine. Just... just because you'll be taking Jason and..." Danny turned to look at Jason, all the way across the other side of the living room. "...maybe taking him home. I mean... he's pretty strong and all. But..." he gulped.
And Tim understood. Jason has been protecting the two kids for the past few months. In Danny's mind, Jason had probably done a better job than his mother.
"He has a home, too, Danny. And people who love him dearly." Barbara said softly. "He... had gotten hurt coming out here. It's our duty to get him back to health and take care of him. I'm... the Jason I know won't abandon you, and once he's back to health, I know he'll look for you again."
Danny's chin jutted defiantly, and Tim pretended not to see the swift dip or the tremble of his lower lip. "Yeah, I know. Besides, I figured if I keep in touch with y'all, I'll know where and how he is, eventually. Maybe you can help him find his beloved little Red bird."
Tim's vision suddenly tunneled onto Danny.
"Little Red Bird. He has this photo of a bird with red chest like, mid-flight. A polaroid photo. He had it for-- I dunno how long. Since I've met him, I think. I don't know where he'd found it or what it meant. I thought it was his pet or something." Danny explained. "He lost the photo a few days ago and... well... he's been like that since." he thumbed toward Jason. Still inert, not even responding to the little girl chatting and crooning. "Not like he was chatty from the start. But when he lost the pic, it's like he'd lost his will to live or something." he shrugged.
"Oh." Tim replied numbly. He caught Barbara's questioning glare. "I..." he gulped, torn between wanting to search through his archives in his laptop, and giving an explanation to Barbara. "It's... oh... I gotta show you." the former won, and he dashed to his bedroom, to his laptop. After what felt like forever (and after sending a print command to a printer), he finally found it.
He marched triumphantly with his laptop to Barbara, and pointed at the screen. "This," he said. "is a robin."
"Cheeky," Barbara smiled as the photo was printed out in A4-size letter - and a few others in smaller size because there is no photo paper available in the penthouse, and Tim wasn't planning on getting it - at least not now. "Robin, huh?"
"Yes, Puck." Tim said, smiling smugly. "He'd accompanied me on the shoots for this one. We were..." he gulped around the lump that suddenly appeared in his throat. "...I was making his portfolio. And then we saw the robins. This... mama robin was landing to feel her fledglings." he explained. "It was more of a lucky catch than anything... Jason loved it and asked for a copy in polaroid shape."
"Shit, boy, you took this photo?" Danny gave a low whistle.
"Language!" Helena hissed.
"Sorry, but,.. yeah, seriously. You printin' this out? He could be... I mean, maybe he'll be less sad..." he said.
"Yeah, I'm printing it out." Tim said, going to the printer and retrieved the bigger picture. "I'm not sure this will work, though... But..." he handed the picture to Danny.
"Oh no, buddy. If you're... if I'm right, then you should give him the photo." Danny said.
"Boys, I strongly advise we wait until Doc Leslie got here. If anything... if he lashed out or anything, the doc can sedate him." Dinah suggested. "That's... an amazing photo, Tim." she added, looking at the photo. "But yes, I think he has been in some sort of trauma-based catatonia, and thus the strong emotional ties to the photo. I would prefer to give him a little time..." she paused at Tim's glare. "Okay, I would like to observe him without uncommon stimuli for as long as possible, at least until Bruce gets here. Or at the oh-so-very-most until morning, since Bruce will get here by the crack of dawn and I expect most of us to be asleep." her tone of voice did not leave room for argument, and Tim shrank away a little. "Right now, I would like you - all of you - to wash up. Use the pool or something. Just wash up real good. And then we can get some lunch. Wait-- no, supper. It's almost 5 p.m."
"Can we get Thai?" Danny asked, almost innocently. Dinah glared at him. "I haven't had Thai in like, forever!"
Dinah huffed. "Fine. Just... all of you scrub up. Now!" she glared at Tim. "You too, Timothy. Or else I'm gonna throw you to the pool."
Tim almost laughed. Almost. Then his eyes landed on Jason, still huddled quietly at the corner of the couch in the living room with Ellie, Danny's sister, leaning on him comfortably.
"I'll get you home, Jason, I promise." he muttered under his breath, even if his mind is telling him that Jason's blank stare equals to a very tall, very sturdy brick wall around Jason's mind that might just be very, very hard to break through.
Chapter 11: Chapter 11
He woke up to a number of new voices. Calm, soft, educated voices. Usually more prevalent with the presence of mean people.
He couldn't make out what they were saying. But there was a more important concern to be had.
From the smell of it, there were food. Fresh, hot food. A table in the middle of the room bearing a lot of food was present. But he didn't know if he would be chased away, or punched, if he were to reach for one. He knew he couldn't simply pilfer the food, either - there was no movement around the room that should have been enough to cover for his stealing some pieces of those very interesting bread. Some of the breads, however, he would not touch. They were special. They would be missed.
The boy and little girl who were his present companions were there, and they looked fine. A lady took the little girl somewhere else, but she did not look scared, so she has got to be a safe person, somewhat. She - the older lady - had looked at him and looked like she was going to cry, but then collected herself and did not cry. There was a big, big man who looked at him oddly. Neither spoke toward him. Or maybe they did, but he just didn't care enough.
Somebody placed him on the table, in front of the breads. He was given the special bread and wondered if they were joking or simply trying to see if he would take the bait. He waited. Oh, he could wait, alright. He has learned to wait out those nasty people a long, long time ago. Bide his time real good until they looked away.
But he didn't have to wait long. A hand took the special bread away, and replaced it with a plain toast. Buttered, warm... just like the way he liked it. He nearly moaned with longing as he looked up to the owner of the hand. Oh, it's that blue-eyed person. The person said something and somehow, assured him that it was his. That he may have it. He blinked. The person was nice. That person has been nice to him since... a while? Whatever. He decided that he would trust that person.
The first bite of the warm buttered toast felt heavenly.
Tim could tell that Bruce and Dr Leslie Thompkins, Bruce's personal physician from god knows how long (probably since his childhood) was there from Danny's stiff posture at the breakfast table - even if Tim could yet to see the table from his bedroom. He found himself smiling - Bruce tend to evoke such reaction with his enigmatic presence, alright. Especially if/when he decided to bring the 'Brucie' persona full on, i.e. one that had faced a renowned Russian President with enough scowl-factor that made said president fluster in shame.
His yawn stopped halfway when he finally rounded the corner and saw Jason also sitting on the table, albeit still glaring blankly at the toast and plethora of food before him.
"Oh good morning, Tim!" Barbara called cheerfully - and Tim knew Barbara well enough to know that she was being sarcastic. His eyes landed on the clock and he realized why. It was 10 a.m. already.
"Mornin' everybody." he replied rather grumpily as he made his way to the coffeepot because. Well, 10 a.m. or not, Tim was not a morning person. Plus, he'd spent the rest of the night worrying that Jason would ran out on them the minute Bruce got in - some time after 4 a.m. (he'd seen the clock and heard Bruce when he came in with Dr Thompkins, and Barbara opened the door for them). He - as well as Danny, Ellie, and Barbara, had gone to bed - Danny with Jason in the living room, Ellie sharing Barbara's room, and Tim got his own - a little after 1 a.m.
Danny and Ellie, if anything, were excited enough to stay up that late. Mostly due to the presence of food. But also because Helena was somehow able to call the County Jail where their mother was held and did some haughty commanding to get the wardens to actually collect her and allowed her to take the call, "regardless of the time, Warden. These children have not heard from their mother for nearly six months! You are not that cruel, I presume?"
Helena could be very convincing when she wanted to, obviously.
"Tim," Bruce's baritone made the wine glasses above the kitchen counter tinkled. "You did very well."
Tim reeled, partly from the lack of caffeine in his system, partly from shock.
"Thanks..." he mumbled.
"You know that thing can stunt your growth, right?" Danny quipped, eyeing the coffee in Tim's hands.
"Where's Ellie?" Tim wanted to know.
"Dr Thompkins is giving her a checkup there," Danny pointed at the living room. "Worms and stuff. Just in case, y'know. She's little."
"I'm done. No worms, lice, or anything that'll make Mr Wayne here have to disinfect the pool." Danny grinned at Tim. "You didn't tell me your dad is Bruce Wayne."
Tim gave him a lopsided smile. "My father was Jack Drake." he said. A flicker of recognition flashed in Danny's eyes. "But yes, my dad is Bruce Wayne."
"Boy, you're like, connected. Like, Sean Astin level of connected! You should've been a star or something!" Danny gushed.
Tim huffed. 'Star'. Right. "Heh. Right. Anyway, has Dr T checked Jason yet?"
"Not yet," a kindly voice replied from the living room. "Dinah Lance gave me quite an appraisal in Jason's condition, and seeing that thus far, only Daniel and Ellie who have managed to move Jason from couch to here, I figured I should wait until I'm done with Ellie." Dr Thompkins replied. "Daniel here has also mentioned that you were able to settle him down a little yesterday. So, would you like to explain to me how?"
Tim flustered a little. "Yeeeah I don't know. I mean, I just..." his eyes landed on Jason, still glaring at the food on the plate in front of him. "Has anybody tried to make him eat, yet?"
"He didn't want toast." Danny said.
"Uh, yeah. He hated them with marmalade. You should know that, Bruce." Tim scowled, pointing at the marmalade-covered toast on Jason's plate.
"Hey, I've only tried it today, and it's pretty awesome!" Danny announced. "Ellie had two."
"Jason never liked them. He'd always switched with my plain buttered one." Tim smiled ruefully. "Bruce loved marmalade. I'm okay with it, but not too much of a fan. Dick - our older brother, could eat the whole jar in one go."
"Ah," Bruce almost smirked. "That's why I never noticed."
"Yeah," Tim agreed, starting to put just butter on a pair of warm toast Barbara handed him. "Thanks, Babs." he added, belatedly.
"I thought you've only lived with Bruce for a short time, Timothy?" Dr Thompkins asked.
"I did, but Jason and I talked, before..." Tim paused and bit his lip before continuing, "before he thought I was... gonna replace him." He ignored Barbara's and Bruce's gasps and took Jason's marmalade-covered toast and placed his own in front of Jason. Jason looked up to him and then back to the toast. Tim smiled at him and nodded encouragingly. "They're yours, eat up."
Jason gave a flicker of... something in his eyes, before picking up the toasts and practically devoured them.
"Wow," Danny said. "He woulda practically just go without if it's something he doesn't like... Like... he didn't like Thai much, did he?" Tim nodded - Jason had only eaten the rice of the Thai menu they had last night.
Bruce nodded solemnly. "That, I know. He'd had a bad experience with Thai food gone bad in the past." he explained. "Leslie?"
Dr Thompkins was watching as Tim handed a glass of milk toward Jason, who chugged it down as if it was water. And then as Jason looked up at Tim expectantly. Tim pouted at being put on the spot, but he put another two slices of bread into the toaster. "Wait," he told Jason, and then took a big bite out of his own toast. Jason kept glaring expectantly until the toaster popped its loots and Tim retrieved the bread, buttered them, and placed them on Jason's plate. "Next time, you do it yourself." Tim glared at Jason, who's started chewing contentedly the instant the breads hit his plate - and ignoring Tim. Also ignoring Danny's snickers.
Tim then shifted his glare to Bruce, Barbara, and Dr Thompkins. "Ideas, adult-peoples?"
Dr Thompkins shrugged, "I think he likes you." she said. Tim did not roll his eyes. Or faceplanted to the table.
"I can't disagree." Danny said in all seriousness.
This time, Tim groaned. "Really." he deadpanned. Not amused. "I hope there is a point in that observation, somewhere."
"There is. Daniel told me of the photo of Robin, and I surmised that it anchored him, somehow. Why don't you present him with that photo, after breakfast, and see if it could jolt something in him." Dr Thompkins replied with a smile. "A traumatic catatonia is not something to be taken lightly, Timothy, a wrong move could make the patient regress even further. He is still responsive, a little, by those he deemed to be safe people - Daniel, Ellie, you. To an extent, Barbara, Bruce and me, likely by our association with you."
"I disagree at Barbara's place in that sentence. But..." Tim shrugged. "...you're the doc."
"Yes, so are you done?" she asked, not hinting, really, as Tim poured a little more milk for Jason. Just half a glass, kind of automatically because he'd noticed in the past that Jason would only drink about half of his second glass of milk back then.
"So am I the only one anxious over this?" Danny asked, watching as Jason cleaned the milk out.
"No, Daniel, I can assure you I am, too." Bruce told him. Tim fully looked at him as they all started to leave the table and head back to the living room. A small tug by Danny made Jason got up, too, and followed. "Could he be jolted back to his memories, Leslie?"
"It happened in some cases. At this point, I can merely hazard a hypotheses that Jason's trauma came from the fall, since we had nothing to back up the diagnoses - if he'd hit his head, or if he'd had a concussion, or other traumas other than the fall. Furthermore, from his gait, I would diagnose that his broken leg had not healed properly." Dr Thompkins explained. "You have arranged for a scan, I hope?"
"I have arranged for a scanner, actually. It should be delivered here by this hour." Bruce replied, a little too innocently for Tim to not wonder how he'd made that happen. Danny, however, was less inhibited in his questions.
"What do you mean?" he asked as he set (pushed) Jason down onto the couch. "I thought that computer thingy has a scanner?"
"Oh, he meant a CAT scanner, Daniel." Barbara said. "It should come in a truck."
Daniel blinked slowly, and then blinked again.
"Uh, yeah... it's not like he bought it, don't worry." Tim tried. Daniel just blinked owlishly. "Uh oh." Tim cringed. Jason had always snarked at him being a 'rich boy' and 'insensitive', and now he was inadvertently proving Jason's words.
"Bruce and I have a lot of work involving hospitals and clinics in Gotham City, so he knows the numbers of a lot of medical suppliers." Dr Thompkins explained. "I asked for one to be delivered here today, so we won't have to transport Jason to a hospital. I'm not sure if it would be good for him to be transported around too much."
Her explanation seemed more... succinct. Or maybe it was because she was a doctor, but Danny seemed satisfied.
"That's really cool! Can you scan me, too? And Ellie?"
Dr Thompkins regarded him contemplatively. "Have you any complaints? Either way, it will be good to have a scan of you on record while you're young." she said.
"Plus, if Jason could see them being scanned and come out the other side unharmed, he might be less..." Barbara paused and looked at Jason, "hesitant?"
"I know you're going to say 'combative', but yes. You can get scanned first if you'd like, Daniel." Dr Thompkins said.
"Awesome!" Danny gushed, and then patted Jason's shoulder confidently. "See, Red? Everything will be cool!"
Chapter 12: Chapter 12
Gah. I hate inconsistencies. I had to edit a lot of chapters because I'd noticed an inconsistency in the flow. Oh editing, the bane of every writer...
Anyway. New chapter! :D
He had looked through the rooms, and couldn't find what he wanted to find. He knew he was scared - although if anyone asked, he wouldn't tell. There were people. Strange people. There was a woman he could not fight who had jabbed something into his arm that was restrained by the big, big man he could not struggle out from. They were speaking in soft, rich people's voices, and he knew they were hurting him. But the street boy and the redhead claimed that they were not hurting him on purpose.
The other friendly face was not there. He had looked thoroughly, to every nook and cranny within the place. And he wanted to know what happened to that face; to the soft and gentle face with a slight eyebrow cock that amused him so.
He struggled and screamed and tried to get away, hard. He couldn't hit the ladies. No, he was raised better than that. But the guy, he could hit hard. If only any of his hits would actually land before the guy locked his arms and legs tightly.
The little boy and girl he'd been with looked scared. Well, here's a news flash, kids; he was scared, too. If he couldn't even get away from this big man, what chance would those kids have against him? Who would protect them if he couldn't?
As he was starting to get desperate, the other face, the pretty friendly face with blue eyes and black hair came running. He thought he was going to be rescued, the big guy would get punched again or something.
But there was merely an extended hand, pressed softly but firmly to his cheek. The blue-eyed-black-haired person just soothingly telling him it was going to be okay.
And then it clicked. The person was friendly with the big man. He was not tense around the big man.
He looked into the blue eyes, and saw calm and tenderness in them, sprinkled with a little worry pronounced by the small dent between the brows. He wanted to get lost into those ocean-blues, but settled to lean onto the hand pressed to his face, instead.
As soon as he leaned onto the hand, the lock-hold the big man has on him eased. The guy probably came to the same realization he did. Those blue eyes, he knew, would protect him.
Things didn't really always go as planned, Tim knew that. Just didn't realize how spectacular a screw up could get until he saw it with his own eyes.
The CT Machine could not get there by that day, and Jason decided to throw a fit by the next. Tim wasn't sure what had brought on the tantrum, either, since Danny and Ellie were both in the room. Evidently, he had tried to get out by way of the windows, apparently - which Bruce strongly objected against.
The tantrum subsided once Tim came in to try to help Bruce to contain Jason. But not before Jason had apparently landed a nice hook on Bruce's chin, which sported quite a nice shiner.
"He was looking for you," Barbara told him once Jason calmed back down, with a little amused quirk on her lips.
"I would surmise that he has started to imprint on you," Dr Thompkins agreed.
"But I was..." Tim paused and remembered, he had gone out that morning to catch some sights around town - kind of wanting to fill his quota of vacation before the week ends. Jason was still asleep when Tim had left, before the crack of dawn. "Oh."
"Yeah, 'oh'," Barbara agreed. "He actually went on his own to your room to look for you. And to the other rooms. Knocked on ours, but barged in to Bruce's like he was thinking Bruce might be hiding you."
It was then that Jason realized that Bruce, Barbara, and Dr Thompkins were still in their sleep clothes, and the clock at the walls showed only 7.50. "Oh god... I'm sorry." he groaned. "Bruce, I'm..."
"He thought you were a pedo-bait, man." Danny said bluntly. "Sorry 'bout that." he grinned, a little sleepily, still.
Tim scratched his head, and Bruce sighed. "I'm... not sure if your vigilance should be a cause for concern or not. But I'm not..." he paused, "anyway. Tim, it would be nice if you can let us know that you're planning to go somewhere next time."
"Okay, Bruce..." Tim replied sheepishly. "Actually, I was... kinda planning to go to the beach to catch a sunrise. Tomorrow. Maybe they can come with? I mean, after the scans? They'll come today, won't they?"
"I shall call them to find out. But if the scan is tomorrow, Timothy, I'd rather you don't bring them along." Dr Thompkins said.
"Yeah, I get it. Too much stimulation and stuff could mess up the brain reading." Tim conceded. "I'm... gonna make some pancakes. I was gonna before..." he gestured at the upturned coffee table and mess strewn about. "Uh... yeah, I'll refill the coffee pot." he said awkwardly, and then swiftly turned on his heels and marched to the kitchen.
Barbara's wheelchair really has no right of being so quiet. But then again, nothing that is Barbara is what 'should have been'; she being the one that always exceeded and surpassed everything ever expected of her; ignored limits and boundaries expected of a disabled person; and somehow honed her observation skills to the point of obnoxiousness. "Have you showed him the photo, yet?" she asked.
Tim whisked the flour and eggs and milk mixture slowly. "No I haven't." he admitted. "There was... no time. I'm not..."
"You're scared that he won't recognize the photo." Barbara cut him.
Tim cringed. "Yeah, I mean, I read up about this... Trauma-based catatonia thingy. It said that... it's not like amnesia, where someone basically forgets things, right? It's more like PTSD or severe Panic Attack where your brain just shuts down and pushed the least important stuff, like memories, sentiments, feelings in general; in favor to prepare your body for the more instinctive things like running, fighting, hiding, right?' Tim did not wait for Barbara to reply before continuing. "So what good will it be for me to show him something that could make him emotional? I mean, we're not exactly home, right? Like, we're approximately 2,700 miles away from home. What if... what if when we actually get home, his brain decided that it's safer in here, in LA, because of his association with the photo?"
"I think you're worrying too much." Barbara finally got a word in edgewise. "Fact: he got anxious when he thought you were gone. Fact: he was calmed when you came in. Fact: you knew what he liked and disliked, when it comes to food. Heck, you even know how much milk you should pour in for his second glass - I would have never noticed that! And I've known him longer than you have!"
"It's not like you ever had breakfast with him in formal settings," Tim reminded.
"Still, Tim, whatever it is you are anxious about, you've found him. You make him believe that he's safe. Why not capitalize on that?" she argued.
"I'm not anxious." Tim hedged. No, he was not going to let Barbara know how anxious he was. Definitely not telling her about his fear of Jason hating him again when his memories come back, and he would remember that Tim had been one of the reasons he'd gotten into this predicament.
Not a single soul - except Bruce, Jason, and Tim - had heard what Jason said the night he'd stormed out of Bruce's office and started packing. No one should even remember that Jason's departure had casted a shadow so dark that everybody had forgotten Tim's birthday. Jason had left in July 12th. Tim's birthday was in July 19th. Good thing that Tim was used to have nobody remembering his birthday, that when nobody gave him birthday wishes, it hadn't hurt so badly.
This year, though. This year, Jason will turn 17. If they could make him at least responsive by his birthday in August, Bruce would be happy. When Bruce is happy, everyone will be happy. And then the theater can move on and live forever. And Tim can go back to being obscure little Tim that nobody would notice. Ever. Again. Get on the stage only to take pictures. That should be all.
Even if Jason could never take the stage again.
"Tim," Barbara called, breaking Tim's reverie. He nearly started at the high stack of pancakes he had made automatically, thoughtlessly. He nearly panicked, wondering if he had actually put in all the ingredients before noticing that Barbara was chewing one pancake. "He doesn't hate you, you know." she suddenly said.
Tim wanted to laugh. "Who?" he asked calmly, instead.
"Jason. He liked you back then..."
Tim shrugged. "Sure, before I was officially Bruce's child."
"He's not that petty, you know. He loved having you around more when Bruce got your custody."
"Custody did not mean that I was Bruce's kid. The adoption papers made it official. He... left... after." Tim gritted, absolutely trying to flatten the last pancake to contain his frustration. How could they not see that it was Tim's adoption that had made Jason leave? How could Barbara, the one he thought had the same mindset as his, not acknowledge it?
Barbara just watched him quietly with her head tilted slightly, and Tim could not read her reaction at all - much to his exasperation.
Whatever it was Barbara going to say was cut off by Ellie, marching in to the kitchen area with Jason in tow, demanding, "Danny said there'll be pancakes."
Tim gave her a forced smile. "Oh yes there is. I just hope I've made enough for everybody!"
Chapter 13: Chapter 13
So much noise. There were so much noise today that his head hurt. He looked at the people around him - most are women, and in spite of their imposing presence, they did not look dangerous to him.
Or maybe they were dangerous, just not to him. Like the Meter Maids. Or soldiers.
Still, the noises bothered him so much that he'd opted to find peace and quiet anywhere else.
He decided to go to the safe-person's place. Behind the door in the middle. He was still not sure if the big guy or the red-haired lady would allow him to go in or not, but the safe-person - even after going out and not there at the moment - would keep him safe.
He closed the door, taking a deep breath of relief when the peace and quiet returned. The shrieks... his head couldn't handle it. Banging his head against a wall would not have been a good idea, he reckoned - not especially with the big guy watching his almost every move.
He hobbled toward the window, on the other side of the bed at the center of the room. He wanted to go outside again, to feel wind that is not artificial to stroke his cheeks. But there was warmth in the place that he could sense, albeit within guarded glares and intimidating presences of rich.
Also it was hot out, it seemed. The sun badgered down relentlessly and it looked like the next building was melting from it. He wondered if he'd made the right decision by staying in.
Then he turned around, his eyes fell on a speck of red on the bedside table.
The sob that broke through from his chest felt so, so much more painful than the constant pains on his legs.
The scanner arrived just after lunch time.
Helena and Dinah arrived with an official looking somebody - and Danny and Ellie's mother - in tow. Small hysteria ensued, in which Jason went into Tim's bedroom and hid himself there until the hubbub subsided.
Tim was a little too fascinated with the very official, very elegant, and very tall Special Agent Diana Prince, and then at Helena's tale of "finding the right somebody to release the wrong person who was tried and charged without representation," and did not think much of Jason going to his bedroom, instead of Bruce's bedroom, until he remembered the photos on his bedside table.
"Oh god..." he muttered under his breath, fighting with his compulsion to barge through the closed door to see if Jason had found the photo of the robin or not, with the trepidation of the possible tantrum. He finally thought that he had calmed enough to open the door, slowly, and called in, "Jason...?"
He had fully entered the room and found Jason curling in fetal position on the floor, next to the bed. He surreptitiously looked over Jason's head, to the bedside table, and cringed when he noticed the brightly-colored photo was gone.
He knelt right by Jason's feet, a little warily, in case Jason decided to kick like a mule. "Hey," he called softly - totally preparing to jump at any sudden movement.
But Jason did not make sudden movements, and when he moved, Tim could see the A4-sized printout was right next to Jason's cheek. He could also see the track of dried tears on Jason's cheeks.
He gulped, a little awkwardly and unsure of what to do. Against his better judgement and sense of self-preservation, he placed a hand on Jason's leg. "Jason," he called again when Jason did not kick him away. "you recognize the bird?" he asked.
Jason responded with a terse sniffle.
"Well, that's good, right? I hope... I hope the photo gave you..." he paused. What? Good recalls of the good times? Comfort? A little happiness? He finally decided on, "...a little assurance that you're loved. That your family miss you and wished you would come home." Then he added under his breath, half hoping that Jason couldn't hear him, "...that I missed those days with you, at the park, just taking photos..."
Jason sniffled again, and Tim was almost surprised to feel his eyes started to burn.
"Please come back, Jason... I don't know what kind of pain that... that lock you up in there. But if you don't tell me, I won't know how to fix it." A drop of tear fell off from Tim's eye, and he brushed it off brusquely. "I wish I didn't have to be adopted... if only so you wouldn't leave. I'd have been just fine, anyway. It's not like anyone would miss me if I wasn't around..." Another drop started to drip, and Tim could feel that both his eyes were streaming. "Bruce was so... broken when you left. And he didn't know how to tell you that he was worried. He didn't... isn't it ironic how someone who could emote so much as somebody else don't know how to express himself in real life? But he didn't know. And he'd just wanted you to be happy.
"I wish you'd call us when you got hurt, so we could help you go home. Or help you heal. I wish... god, Jason... I don't understand how... how you can... why you didn't call. I know you're mad at me. But Dick and Bruce and Alfred..." Tim sniffled almost at the same time Jason did. He laughed ruefully. "God... look at me now. I'm trying to get through to you when I know I was the reason..."
Jason suddenly croaked, "Robin..."
"What?" he finally asked when he saw Jason's hand caressing the photo.
"Robin." Jason repeated.
The gasp from the direction of the door was unmistakable. Unmistakably Bruce. Tim promptly waved him away.
"Yeah, you remember that robin, don't you?" Tim asked, peering to see Jason's face. His eyes were still blank, but his hand was still stroking the photo. "Tell you what, you can keep it with you..." he noticed the smaller-sized ones were strewn behind Jason's head and gingerly reached for them. "...here, you can keep the smaller one on your person; and we'll print a poster-sized one and then you can put it up in your bedroom. How's that sound?"
Slowly, very slowly, Jason's head turned toward Tim. Then he looked at the smaller, business-card-sized photo in Tim's hand, and started to get up.
"Yeah? You want this one, right? That one is too big, you might wrinkle it accidentally. But this one, you can keep it in your pocket." Tim nodded encouragingly as Jason started to sit up, his hand reaching for the photo. Tim slowly moved it out of reach, encouraging Jason to stand up. Once he did, painstakingly and by holding on to the windowsill and bed, he handed Jason the photo triumphantly. "There you go... come on now, let's go and get Doc Thompkins check your whole body."
Tim just needed to tug and lead Jason lightly, and he followed, eyes still on the small photo. Bruce stood stolidly by the door, stepping aside only when Tim and Jason were about to pass him. Tim noticed that Bruce swiftly walked around the bed and retrieved the photo's larger printout.
He did not miss Bruce's eyes back to them and his mouth forming the word 'Robin'. And the smile.
For the first time since Jason left, Tim almost believed that things would be okay.
Chapter 14: Chapter 14
Every day is a new experience for him. And today's experience was to understand that the friendly-faced boy and the bird were related. The big guy certainly thought so, he seemed less threatening and more friendly once the boy gave him the smaller bird to keep.
The next one was that all the noises outside seemed to bring... a contraption of sort that his street friends were gleefully utilizing. For hiding, maybe? He couldn't be sure, but he watched them go in to the contraption and come back out some minutes later unscathed and laughing. So it has to be... okay.
And then it was his turn, apparently. That was fine, he was wondering what was in it, anyway. And it was a little disappointing that it did not show anything mind-boggling, just a number of pictures of birds and general animal life. They were... okay, and there was an image of a building that made his heart beat a little faster. He could barely make out the letters spelling W-A-Y and H-something-something-S-E in front of the building before the image changed - it was too dark for him to see.
All in all, it was an interesting but boring experience - and yes, he was aware of the paradox. And then he realized that the boy - the nice boy - didn't get to go in there. He wondered why, and there seemed to be an argument somehow in which the boy said that he didn't want to go in there. He looked at him, a little sad that the boy wouldn't get to share the experience. Eventually, apparently, with the aid of his street friends, they convinced the boy to go in there, too.
He watched from the other side, this time, when an image of the boy - the literal internal images showed up on the screen. He knew it was the boy's, the scale was right.
He wondered if they had been seeing his images when he was in there. He wondered if anyone could tell him what was going on in his mind.
Getting Jason into the CT scanner for a full-body scan did not turn out to be quite the drama - especially since he had stood and watched Danny and Ellie being wheeled in. The-- 'drama' happened when he realized that Tim was not going to be scanned. Jason's sad face looked... almost comical in the situation.
Tim 100% believed that the adults were leaving him to explain why he was not scanned to Jason for the comical value alone. And Jason, ever the cheat, recruited Danny and Ellie to make sad-faces at Tim.
"I don't need to be scanned because I have scans back home, Daniel," Tim told him, half lie, because he'd only have a X-Ray of his arm when he had broken it a long time ago, when he was going home from the theater and fell on the icy pavement, and somebody had grabbed him - preventing him from getting brained on the sidewalk. Unfortunately, grabbing his frail little arm had actually fractured the bone. Alfred had noticed him holding his arm oddly the next day, and called Dr Thompkins.
That was a while before Bruce demanded his custody, long before the adoption and Jason left. He still has the cast - signed by everyone in production and Jason - back home.
"It doesn't hurt, Timmy." Ellie said in all seriousness.
Tim rolled his eyes and glared at the adults. "Aren't you adults going to help me here? Like, be the voice of reason?"
"Well, reasonably speaking, the machine is here..." Dinah said.
"Your legal guardian, i.e. Bruce, can sign your consent forms just fine." Barbara added.
"It's not like he's gonna pay more or less for the use of scanning you while we're at it--" Helena mused out loud.
"--not helping, people!" Tim snapped.
"Actually, it might be a good idea, Timothy. If educational for you when you can see the difference between your broken bone and Jason's." Dr Thompkins said, smiling innocently.
"I had radial fractures, doc." Tim reminded him. "Jason's would've been... I dunno..."
"Oblique and comminuted, from the scans. It might convince him on why we may have to re-break them to put pins on them, Timothy," the second half of Dr Thompkins' sentence was delivered softly enough for Jason to not hear.
"Oh," Tim sulked. "Can't you just scan my arm?" he haggled.
"I can hold your hand if you're scared." Ellie told him.
Tim sighed. "I'm not-- I've had scans before!" Tim told him. "Ugh, you people are gonna gang up on me, aren't you?"
"Absolutely," said Barbara.
"What's ganging up?" Dinah replied coyly.
"Who's 'we'?" Helena asked in feigned innocence.
Tim huffed in irritation. "Fine, I'll get scanned."
So he did, a full-body scan, much to his own reluctance. Dinah informed him that Jason's reaction to the imaging indicated that while Jason was generally unresponsive, he was not lacking or disturbed in the intelligence part of his brain. He would still be the same Jason that he knew. And the Jason that Tim knew would not jump into the water unless someone else had jumped first (usually that would be Dick).
Which reminded him...
"Doesn't Bruce have a few pins in him, too?"
"He's old, man, he should have some. You're a kid like us." Danny said, ever the voice of reason, even if his comment evoked a sound that is akin to a dying animal from the 32-year-old Bruce. Tim has to stifle a grin at Bruce's grimace.
"He's... okay, I see your point. It was a different type of pin, though. But..." Tim looked at Jason. "Same difference. But it happened." he shrugged. He wondered how Jason would react if his leg - or legs - were to be re-broken for to bones to be set properly. He also noticed that the adults had not said a word of the possibility to Jason. Just to Bruce.
When Ellie was distracting Jason - introducing Jason to her and Danny's mom - Danny finally edged closer to Tim. "So... you think he'll be okay if his legs need to be re-broken."
Tim gulped. "I dunno, man... I was kinda hoping that he'll be at least responsive by then, so he can tell us things, you know? But..." he shrugged dejectedly. "I don't know how traumas work. Let alone catatonia..." he admitted.
"Dude, let the adults worry about that, y'know? I mean, your dad seemed concerned enough, right?" Danny pointed out.
"I know... Just..." Tim stopped himself from saying he felt responsible. That his brain wanted to know the steps that were going to happen in the future to make sure that Jason would get healthy again - both physically and mentally. "I just... I just need to know that he'll be okay, I think. I guess I'm just anxious."
"Yeah, I getchu. If it was Ellie, I think I'll be freaking out, too." Danny patted his back. "All's well that ends well, Timmy. At the very least, you all will go home in a few days."
Chapter 15: Chapter 15
They all looked happy. He was not. But he understood that those kids from the street would go back to where they belong - with their mother.
He knew he didn't have a mother. He had, once upon a time. But she was gone even before she was physically gone. He remembered that he was small, smaller than the street boy, when he first realized that his mother was gone. Dead. And that he should get away from where her body was so that he would not be captured and sent to homes.
There was beauty early in the day. The nice boy who has the birds took them all to a beach. He couldn't care less for the water - the beaches back home were always polluted and not suitable for swimming. Here, in the land of a thousand stars, the water was almost pristine. But he didn't want to go in there. He could swim, he just wasn't sure how. Fortunately, no one forced him to go in.
He knew that once the two street kids left, his safety would rely on the bird boy. The bird boy seemed to hold some kind of power over the big guy and would get whatever he asked for. The red-haired lady seemed okay, but he was a little scared of her. She was in a wheelchair, but didn't seem to need any kind of help getting around. Not even on the beach. He couldn't really discern how, but presumed that it was due to her own upper body strength.
The sweet bird boy seemed to worry about him a lot. So he decided to keep as little distance as possible from the boy. Hopefully, he wouldn't mind.
To Danny and Ellie's delight, Tim finally managed to get them to the beach - not the public beach (although they did walk the Venice Beach's walkway); but the private Beach that belonged to a movie star, apparently. It was an interesting experience for all - especially Tim, who finally managed to capture the sunset in his camera.
Saying goodbye was... quite poignant for all. Even without expressing it, Tim could sense that Jason was a little agitated. He had forlornly followed Tim everywhere Tim went like a lost duckling. As amusing as it was for others, it was... quite awkward for Tim. A little distracting and more hindering, too, since Jason could not move as fast as Tim and would give him a really sad look when Tim moved out of his arms' range.
"Uh... I'm-- concerned."
When Jason finally went to sleep - still on the couch - Tim finally admitted to Bruce, who had been watching Jason tailing Tim around like a lost little puppy since Danny and Ellie and their mom moved to Helena and Dinah's apartment. There were only Barbara and Dr Thompkins there with them at the moment, all waiting for the next day where they would be taking Bruce's private jet back to Gotham.
They had agreed that they should go back to Gotham in a quiet time, which would mean a Monday, where all productions would stop for a break until Tuesday. At least the house would only be occupied by Alfred and Dick, and maybe the Row siblings. Dr Thompkins suggested that there should be enough quiet for Jason to handle, but not too quiet to suggest that he was abandoned.
"Because he's still imprinting on you?" Bruce almost smirked. "Or because he imprints on you instead of me?"
Tim digested the questions for a moment, and then decided, "both. I mean, you're his dad."
"Jason is sixteen, Tim, he practically doesn't need a 'dad.' He needs a friend." Bruce said. "Or so Leslie said. I guess she has more experience with teenage runaways than I do," he added ruefully.
"Oh," Tim muttered uncertainly. Unlike other teenagers, obviously, the perpetually-happy-and-cheerful Dick Grayson would never threaten to run away as long as he is allowed to get on stage and perform. Tim, as prone as he was to get to places he shouldn't even by his preteen years, has no intention of getting out there on the world all alone. Especially not now that he has gotten a kind of family to call his own.
"So what are you gonna do?" he asked.
"Nothing," Bruce replied. "He never hated you, you know."
"That's what everybody said, but I heard what he told you..." Tim shrugged. Bruce blinked. "I never wanted to be Puck..." Tim continued.
"Oh, that." Bruce sighed. "It was... he'd wanted to stop being Puck for a while then. He'd wanted to be Demetrius, but I thought he was physically still too small to fight Dick." he explained. "It has nothing to do with your adoption, Tim."
"Oh," Tim muttered again, still uncertain. A little part in his heart said that he should've thrown his logical mind behind some bars. And maybe walls and padlocks, too. But the louder voice in his brain said that Bruce is an actor. He acts every time. Brain was sure that Bruce was just saying that to convince Tim to not try and be a teenage runaway like Jason. "I'm not gonna run away from home." he said out loud.
"What?" Bruce seemed taken aback by the declaration. "While that's... quite a relief to hear, do you have any point with it?"
"Jason. Me. Adoption. I'll stay until Jason is better and can fend for himself. Even then, I don't think I'd ever want to run away. Take jobs, maybe -
photography jobs - elsewhere. But not like I'm going to Syria to be a war correspondent or something like that." he shrugged. "Human cruelty doesn't interest me."
Bruce nodded slowly, probably unable to follow Tim's line of thought. Tim was not a stranger for adults not being able to follow his line of thought to be bothered by it, anyway.
"Do you want to go to bed now, or do you want to sit here with me?" Bruce suddenly offered. They were both still in the living room, watching Jason - just in case he woke up and found himself alone since Danny and Ellie were already gone. All of them were packed up, ready to go right after breakfast - whatever time breakfast would take place on.
Oh the joy of being rich and famous, Tim thought idly. And then recalled Bruce's question. "I'll stay a while, I think. Just in case." he offered. "I can't sleep anyway."
Bruce nodded as Tim settled on the couch next to Jason, Jason's head next to his hip. He never even noticed when Jason eventually pulled him and spooned him, or when Bruce wrapped a stole around them both. All Tim remembered was the comfortable warmth of the night in his sleep.
Chapter 16: Chapter 16
So this is home, he thought to himself. There was a nice bed that smelled like his. Felt like his. He was still a little scared until the bird boy sat on it, patted the bed, and proceeded to sleep on it.
The place was huge, but familiar and strange at the same time. There were images in the back of his mind, blurry images, that led him to know where the bathrooms were at; or where to go when the bird boy said 'dinner time'. But otherwise the place could just be one of the other alleys that he would need to re-orient himself in.
Regardless, the whole place has roofs and walls and heaters. Fine by him. Plus, the bird boy didn't seem to mind his following him around.
There were other people: the red lady who seemed to live there, too. And there was another guy who looked older than he was but kind of looked like a mix between the big guy and the bird guy. He was loud, fast, but strangely felt somewhat safe and non-threatening to him - even if the loud guy had wrapped his arms around him for a good amount of time once he stepped out of the car when they arrived.
There was an old man with kind brown eyes and receding hairline who visibly dabbed away some tears when he arrived. He wondered briefly if the old man was his father, or anybody's father for that matter. He should be someone's father. If the loud guy had appeared a 'little less' threatening, the old guy looked downright safe.
And then there were other people whom the bird boy didn't seem to feel threatened with, and thus he, too, deemed as okay. They did not violate his personal space, he wouldn't do that to them, either.
There were rooms. A lot of rooms. He wanted to peek through the rooms one by one, but alas, the bird boy seemed to know what's in which room and didn't indulge him. They had walked outside the place, and it was massive. But the surrounding area felt just as safe as the insides. Everyone looked... happy?
He wondered if he, too, will ever be happy.
Through the week that followed, Tim-- felt like he was being... well, shadowed would be the understatement of the year. With Jason still following him everywhere Tim went, he was obviously being followed. But Dick Grayson had decided that he should keep an eye, too, on both of them, while Jason got himself reacquainted with the theater. Thus Tim ended up with not one, but two metaphorical stalkers.
In the past few months, the Kane House had decided to merge with the Wayne house - what with them being related by blood, anyway. It was also more economic to merge the two businesses, with Kane House as the subsidiary of Wayne Entertainment Inc. The first results of the merger was that there were a whole load more people in the main Wayne House than ever.
The second result of the merger was that Dick was given higher responsibility as the production manager of the multiple productions that were ongoing. While this freed him from the daily chore of rehearsals, in Tim's less-than-favorable view, this gave him too much time to shadow Tim and Jason as they went around Gotham.
Okay, so they didn't really go around Gotham. Tim was 14, after all, and did not have a license and Jason couldn't really drive in his present condition. But even around the block, Tim could sense Dick's presence.
The surgery on Jason's legs would take place by the next week, by an expert surgeon from Washington called Dr Pieter Cross. The following psychiatric treatment was to be a Dr Kent Nelson, referred by Dr Cross. Tim thought he was more nervous than Jason, who would need to have both legs re-broken. Or maybe Jason was just not realizing it, yet.
On the Western -as in Western Coast - front, they had received a somewhat morbid news. Agent Diana Prince, Dinah's friend who had started the investigation on Jack Napier, has found him. Tim did not even know why Agent Prince was investigating Napier at all, since technically - as far as Tim knew - Napier didn't commit any crime. Any visible crime. Except maybe abandoning Jason, who was technically a minor. Still, since they could not speak to Jason, and thus technically has no case against Napier.
That is, until Tim overheard Barbara telling Dick that Agent Prince had found Napier dead.
Tim was thanking high heavens that he - for once in the past few weeks - had managed to lose Jason (to Alfred's care - he's not that annoyed with Jason, yet!) when he stumbled upon Barbara and Dick.
"...Prince wanted to know if... Jason has bruise marks on his fists." Barbara ended her report just as Tim walked in.
"He'd been on the street at least three months before we found him; Danny said so! If there are bruises, it would be from more recent fights, Babs!" Tim blurted, and then cringed when he realized he was a little too curt. "I can't believe they actually thought that Jason had done this!"
"Tim," Barbara was visibly trying to compose herself. "She'd found a decayed corpse. It is still going through an autopsy, but the FBI has confirmed the identity of the corpse as Jack Napier. They calculated that he would have been dead for at least six months."
"Jason was missing for a year, Babs!"
"Slow down, Timmers... I'm not going to be blaming Jason even if he had bludgeoned Napier. Obviously Napier had prevented him from calling us. But we'll need--" Dick started. Tim cut him off.
"--to protect Jason at all cost! Come on, you guys! Jason is a kid! Napier was an adult! Furthermore, he'd had broken legs - plural! - that were not set properly. He can't even run!" Tim snarled.
"--that was exactly what I have in mind. But I'd like to have all facts laid out before me before laying out my own plan of action." Dick said calmly. "At the moment, we know that Napier had died of blunt force trauma - he has more broken bones than if he'd been tossed into the dryer with rocks. He was presumed killed six months ago. Jason was presumed to be on the streets at least six months - if not more. Jason exhibited PTSD and/or trauma-related catatonia, which could have come from-- please hear me out first, Tim." Dick rose a hand to stop Tim as Tim started to sputter.
Tim huffed, but conceded.
"Okay... As far as I know, Jason has had his days of living on the streets of Gotham before Bruce adopted him. He is no stranger to fighting and stuff. He could have bludgeoned Napier. But, he would have to had a really good reason."
"If Napier had imprisoned him, I'd say that's a good enough reason." Barbara chimed in.
"But really, Babs, if Napier had Jason imprisoned, who's to say he didn't have people guarding Jason while he was there?" Tim finally got a word in. "I have footage from news outlets showing him here at the Harley club. I'll look up his last date of appearance. And the time he'd gone back to LA."
"Okay, great. That's in the to-do list. Now, assuming - we're gonna assume the worst for now and that Jason did bludgeon Napier; why didn't he call us, immediately afterward? That is presuming that Napier did not have guards who were keeping Jason imprisoned." Dick said.
"Scared?" Barbara suggested.
"...of pummeling someone who's been keeping him - effectively kidnapping him? Scared of us?" Dick countered.
"No, Jason would have called someone he knew. Especially if he was still hurting. At least he'd call Dr Thompkins." Tim pointed out.
"Already in shock?"
"I remember him telling me he'd pummeled someone who'd tried to rape a friend of his back then. He was like, ten years old. I didn't sense fear or regret then. And that was not his first punch-outs." Dick said. "He's not... I don't know. I guess it's different when-- you're out there on your own. Fear is subjective. Jason's level of fears are different than ours."
Tim suddenly saw Dick as more than just the perpetually-happy-go-lucky performer from the circus who was adopted by a billionaire actor. If anything, he saw that Dick had cared a lot for Jason, as he does for Tim. Regardless of the three-years of age difference, Dick had tried to assure the street kid that he has a brother. Like he has been trying to convince Tim by calling him up every other day. Or by including him in every 'adult' conversation.
And now, Tim mentally added 'perceptive' into his mental checklist about Dick. Maybe a little savage since Dick have noticed right away that Jason's idea of 'fear' would differ than theirs simply because Jason was more used to violence than any of the three of them would have.
"Okay, so... theories?" Tim asked. "Drugged, maybe? Danny did say he thought Jason had 'snorted some bad drugs' - I'm assuming he was like, high or something."
"Okay, he was drugged, pummeled Napier, ran away..."
"Where'd his people go?" Barbara pointed out. "There are a number of drugs that could render someone unconscious and/or amnesiac. I know there have been cases of drug-induced catatonia as well. But that would not pan out with the theory that Jason had escaped after bludgeoning and/or punching Napier. And then if Napier had guards, I personally doubt Jason could take more than one adult person."
"Okay, so the prosecutor would have more than one hole in this theory. That is... good for us, I suppose." Dick stated cheerily. A little too cheerily.
Tim understood the fake-cheeriness all too well, though. If Jason had not been drugged and willfully bludgeoned Napier, he would have been tried for murder - even if tried in absentia, without his presence and/or presence with full faculties due to his catatonic state.
"Right, I'll find the evidence of Napier's whereabouts in the past six months. You guys?" Tim decided. "Let's not bring this up with Jason present, yeah?"
"I agree." Dick agreed a little too quickly. But Barbara nodded, too.
"I'll keep this between the three of us, too. Diana or Dinah will feed me more info, and I'll share it with you two." Barbara said. "My heart does not believe Jason did this, guys. But I'm not liking where the evidence showed so far."
"Doesn't matter. We protect our own." Dick gritted his teeth.
For a fleeting moment, Tim wondered what would've happened to Napier if he'd been alive, and Dick would find him. Or Bruce.
Chapter 17: Chapter 17
He could sense the tension in the air - even the bird boy was a little tense. There were people with white lab coats, and the nice lady doctor, who pricked him with numerous needles. It was only the boy's and the lady doctor's presence that made him reconsider punching them all and run away.
Well, that, and the fact that his legs still hurt a lot. It might not be a good idea to run while he could only hobble. The bird boy walked around a lot, and even if he'd walked slow enough to be caught up on, the too-much-walking still taxed his legs.
The boy would press his body onto his side while they were pricking him with needles, saying soothing things. At least they were in soothing tone, because his brain is too cloudy to know what they were talking about.
He has always had trouble sleeping, that much he remembered. Even under drugs, he would always be on alert - the smallest of noise would wake him up. Maybe it was due to the fact that he had never felt safe - living on the floors of the alleys of the city tend to sharpen one's instinct to the point of semi-paranoia.
This time, thought, he could tell that he was being drugged. But at least, the bird boy was there, holding his hand.
For the first time in his life, he succumbed to the blackness of sleep; knowing he would be safe. The bird boy would guard him, he was sure. Whatever it is they were trying to do by drugging him to sleep, the bird boy would make sure he would not be harmed in any way.
More bad news came from Dinah, just as Jason was about to be wheeled for the surgery. Tim, Barbara, and Dick eventually decided to hold their meeting while Bruce was holding vigil in front of Jason's surgical theater.
Somehow, Bruce had even managed to joke, "this is the worst theater I've been in."
And Tim really wanted to know what he would be thinking if he'd heard that his son was a suspect in a murder. No, that his son was the main suspect in a murder.
"His prints and biologicals were found there - in the house where they had found Napier's body." Barbara said grimly, pointing out to the screen of her laptop that was showing police and Crime Scene reports.
"Okay, counselor, wouldn't that be obvious if he was detained there?" Dick countered. "Were they found on Napier's corpse?"
"They couldn't tell yet. They found the body decomposed, you know. Mummified, actually. I'm... not sure what to think of with the term 'mummified' and how... But I reckon the area he was found at was dry enough to make him mummify instead of fully decompose. They couldn't even determine time of death and put it on a very wide bracket of three months to a year." Barbara replied.
"The bright side is that I found clips that said Napier was alive by the time Danny met Jason three months ago." Tim showed them a clip from an info-tainment channel, showing Napier arguing with somebody out of sight right outside the Harley Club. "Supposedly - if the tabloids were to be believed, he'd left for LA right the next day. I haven't found anything from LA that can corroborate that." he admitted, a little begrudgingly.
"Right, I'll take that one, then. I've a friend who can poke out some alibis. You know him," Dick smirked at Barbara.
Barbara suddenly groaned. "Ugh... ick. Won't it be a little too obvious for you if you call him up and start asking about Napier?"
"He, who?" Tim wanted to know.
"Jason Bard, Private Investigator Extraordinaire," Dick smirked mischievously. "A.K.A. Babs' ex boyfriend."
"Oh," Tim winced. "Yeeeah, I agree. Might be a little too suspicious if you call your girlfriend's ex to investigate something involving your adoptive brother." Tim pointed out. "Other option?"
"There's Ralph Dibny, but if we ask him, he'll definitely report to Bruce." Dick huffed. "He and Bruce are like, BFWBs. Best Friend With Benefit - and said benefit comes in dollar signs."
"Victor Sage." Tim suddenly remembered. "He was an investigative journalist. He was really good and fair - he would expose either side of the suspicions fairly."
"...and place Jason in more stress?" Barbara said softly.
"Won't he be more stressed if he was to be named as a murderer when he couldn't defend himself? Jason is catatonic. He's not an idiot." Tim reminded them. "He's thinking, just not expressing. He'd talked to me once. Bruce had heard it, too."
Both Tim and Barbara landed their gaze on Dick, who was pinching the bridge of his nose tiredly.
"Alright," Dick finally decided. "Victor Sage. No punch pulled. We prepare ourselves for Jason's defense, right?"
Barbara nodded solemnly. "Always. I have Kate Spencer, Rachel Keast, and Jean Loring on speed dial."
"And all-girls squad, Babs?"
"Works for the heart, Dick." Barbara smirked. "If all else fails, go for the heartstrings. Orphaned, homeless, stardom, dumped broken and back on the streets... I'd cry if if were in the jury selection."
They continued chatting, plotting, scheming; interrupted only when Bruce finally came amongst them, looking gaunt and even older than his mid-30s.
"Did it work?" Dick demanded.
"Hm? Oh, the surgery itself was... 'easy', so Pieter said... the drama will begin once he wakes up." Bruce told them, sighing. "Alfred is waiting with him, in case he wakes up and get distressed." He did not imply anything, but Tim could sense Bruce's glare landed on him.
"I'll take over from Alfred once I'm done eating," Tim assured him, pointing to the takeout boxes Barbara has had on the table next to the laptop, didn't even realize that he has been devouring a box of noodles while talking. Dick, ever the mother-hen, had probably placed a box in Tim's hands and he'd started eating out of... well, it had smelled nice.
"He-- I would appreciate that, Tim, thank you." Bruce acknowledged. "Now, you kids maybe can fill me up on what schemes you've been running to prove Jason's innocence on Napier's death."
Dick dropped his fork halfway to his mouth. Tim nearly choked on his fry. Barbara just glared at Bruce.
"How." she demanded. Not asked.
"Diana Prince is a good friend of mine. She'd come here from Themiscyra under my parents' sponsorship." Bruce explained. "She had warned me that the investigation might hit too close to my home, and my son. And told me to prepare the defenses accordingly."
If Dick or Barbara had heard the same thing Tim did, of the words 'just don't tell me how the investigation going' that were not said, they did not show it.
"I'm thinking Kate Spencer, Rachel Keast, or Jean Loring on Jason's behalf." Barbara said. "They'll have to face... whoever's the DA in LA?"
"I think you can include Harvey Dent, too." Bruce said contemplatively. "He's... quite fond of Jason. And his position as a former Gotham City's DA would make him a formidable opponent."
"Whoa... that's heavy." Dick huffed.
"I'll consider Dent, if all else fails." Barbara replied, not detailing what 'else' might include. "The thing is, Dent defends crooks, too, nowadays. So I'm not comfortable with him."
"All lawyers would end up defending crooks at one point or another of their career, Barbara. It's a matter of how many hours they've booked. I'm presuming you'll co-chair with the Manhunter?" Bruce said. "I'd exempt Keats, though. Her link to Diana Prince - being from the same country - might be used against her investigation and us in general. Loring should be your last option - she would defend anyone with money and that could turn against you."
"Co-chair?" Tim echoed. "'Manhunter'?"
"Well yes, you didn't know Babs has a law degree?" Dick smirked at him. "Kate Spencer's nickname is the Manhunter, since she's pretty much vicious and relentless in proving some people's guilt."
"Of course I will. I'm partial to Kate, too, and just keep Keats and Loring as reserve. I might consider taking over Jason's custody temporarily while I'm at it." Barbara remarked.
"What for?" Dick asked, an eyebrow cocked in curiosity. "You're not even old enough to be his mom."
"Just for the simplification. If I have custody, all and any documents will be sent to me instead of Bruce. That way, nobody can imply 'parental ignorance' or neglect." she explained. "Sometimes when they're losing, the prosecutor would delay sending notices on new evidences, to rattle the defendant's defense."
"...so by sending them to Jason's actual legal guardian, Bruce, they would expect said notice to be actually lost." Dick clarified. "That actually kinda makes sense."
"Yes," Barbara nodded sagely. "I, on the other hand, do not let any envelope go past me and accepts my own mail. Their argument therefore will not be valid."
Tim sighed, "legal stuff hurts my head." he admitted at Barbara's glare. "Not like I don't understand them, I just... don't understand the necessity for scheming."
"I second that," Bruce agreed. "But then again, we're all law-abiding citizens here, so what do I know." he added blithely.
Barbara nodded slowly. "Hence you need the despicable breed that is Homo-Legalis to think dirty for you." she said with a smug smirk. "Think Jason would be awake by now?"
"Pieter-- Dr Cross said he should be fully sedated for at least three hours. So yeah, he could be starting to wake up now." Bruce looked at Tim expectantly.
"Pffft... alright. I know when I'm not wanted because the adults want to talk." Tim scowled playfully and dumped his empty noodle box into the bin. Bruce smiled. "I'm gonna keep Jason company, because at least he's still considered a kid. Like me."
Chapter 18: Chapter 18
The pounding in his head, the feels as if his mouth was filled with cotton, and slow throbbing on his legs made him realize that he was still alive. His eyes might not be cooperating all too well, but he managed to open them with sheer willpower, and was quite glad that the room was dimly lit, making it easier for his eyes to adjust.
He looked around, and found a figure huddled on the chair right next to his bed. The soft hums and beeps of machinery made him certain that he was in a hospital of some sort. He could also see the small tube that was hung above him, probably IV meds. He must have been under some kind of surgery, probably to fix his broken legs.
A sliver of light passed by the window, and he could see the blanket-wrapped figure a little clearer. He smiled, realizing who it was. Of course, of all people who could sit there and wait, it would be Tim. Bruce and Dick would have been too busy to sit still and wait for him to wake up. But at least he knew with Tim's presence, either one of those two would have been nearby, too. They wouldn't have allowed their precious little bird to travel alone without an adult present. Tim was not like him, not a tough street kid who preferred to not have adult supervision.
He wondered if he should just let Tim sleep - it was still night time, after all. Tim looked peaceful, but he knew that Tim would end up with one hell of a sore neck if he'd sleep like that the whole night through.
"Tim," he tested. His throat felt like it has been sandpapered. He cleared his throat, trying to collect what little foul-tasting and smelling saliva he still has, and swallowed. "Tim!" he called a little louder. Tim stirred a little, but not waking up. He felt bad, just a little, though. Because if Tim didn't wake up, he would need to throw something to call a nurse or somebody. And there was nothing to throw that is within his arms' reach.
"Timothy Jackson Drake!" he finally managed to shout a little.
Tim mumbled something that sounded like 'five more minutes', and then his eyes snapped open. Finally.
If Jason had not woken him up, Tim probably would never tell anyone that he had fallen asleep on the chair next to Jason's bed. But Jason had actually called him by name. And it took every single ounce of willpower that Tim has in order to not keel over and fall off the chair out of surprise.
"Hi," he gulped. A little lost at what to do until Jason mouthed a 'hi' back, and everything Alfred told him about ice chips, nurses, and whatnot, flooded back. "Uh, hold on a sec. I'll get you..." he paused as he opened the door of the little fridge and looked at his hands. "Uh yeah, I'mma wash my hands first, I think. Hold on..." he was half-turned toward the bathroom when he paused and remembered the button to call the nurse - on Jason's right side, and Tim was on the left side. He reached over Jason and pressed the button, catching Jason's amused expression while he was at it.
After washing his hands (30 seconds, he counted), and returned to the fridge to retrieve a small dixie cup of ice chips; put said ice chips between Jason's chapped lips; and Jason croaked, "thanks for coming," - that realization finally hit Tim.
"Oh my god..." he gasped, just as a nurse walked in. Jason looked at him quizzically. A little confusion, but all Jason. "Oh my god! You're awake!"
Tim pivoted and ran out of the room, handing the cup to the nurse, and nearly collided into Dick. "Where's Bruce!" he demanded.
"What? What happened?" Barbara gasped from somewhere behind Dick. Dick didn't wait for Tim to answer, instead he bodily moved Tim to the side and sprinted toward Jason's room. "Tim! What happened!"
"He's awake! Babs! Bruce! Where!" Tim panted. Gasped. The instant Barbara's hand lifted and pointed toward somewhere down the hall, Tim sprinted again, all the way down until he saw Bruce, talking to someone in lab coat. "Bruce!" he called, half-flinging himself onto Bruce. "He's awake!"
"Well, yeah... he should be out of anaesthetics..." the doctor replied.
"No, no, no, no, no! Bruce! He's awake!!" Tim insisted. What the hell is going on with these adults? Why are they so dense?
Someone gasped behind him, saying, "My word!" followed by a blur of Alfred briskly walking toward Jason's room. Tim finally had a sense of relief - at least Alfred got him. Not like Bruce, who was still blinking owlishly in front of him. Alfred's motion, however, seemed to spark something in Bruce - realization, probably, and he quickly gripped Tim's arm and power-walked, like Alfred, and dragging Tim along.
"Tim, are you sure?" Bruce asked about halfway there.
"Yes!" Tim gasped. He had sprinted there, but Bruce's much longer leg made him feel like he would be better off walking on air or something. He was huffing and puffing for air when Bruce finally reached the door and pushed it open.
Jason's word for Bruce, however, made Tim want to throw something to his face. "Oh hi, pops." followed by, "so everybody's here, huh? Who's running Gotham, then?"
Tim's brain skidded to a halt.
Jason thought he was still in LA! he thought. In spite of him still huffing and puffing, trying to catch his breath, Tim could see and hear Bruce gulping. Tim also saw the camera at the corner of the room - supposedly for monitoring critical or post-surgery patients. He made a mental note of it, but then noticed that Barbara had seen it, too. One of her hand was holding Dick's phone, recording the whole thing for the purposes of Jason's upcoming defense, while her other hand was holding her own cellphone, calling somebody. Because if anyone is overly over-prepared in this family, it would be Barbara. And for the umpteenth time since he knew her, Tim was glad.
Nobody seemed to even want to start to tell Jason. Alfred cleared his throat loudly and glared pointedly at Bruce. The latter finally made the last few steps required to get him to Jason's side. "Jason," he started. "how do you feel, son?"
Jason shrugged nonchalantly. "Fine, broke my leg a few days ago. Stage mishap. You know, shit happened." he said. Then he uncovered the sheets that covered his legs. "I suppose the surgery's finished, hope I'll be back on stage in a few months or so. I have a Rocky Horror lined up. Should be cool."
Tim wanted to run out of the room, realizing that Jason had literally thought it was a mere few days from his accident. But Jason, still oblivious, chirped on. "Little bird grew up quite a lot in a year! Thought he'd be the only one here, with you all being busy and all that."
Bruce gulped again. Dick had pointedly looked away, his back to Jason. They must have both realized what was happening, too, because Dick's cheeks were wet with tears.
Jason finally caught on to the mood. "What? Something happened? Is the House okay? Hey, look, I'll be okay, alright? You guys don't have to be here like, for long. Jack will take care of me post-op and I'll be going to his place in Malibu or wherever 'round here for recovery and physical therapy. I'll be as good as new in no time."
"Okay," Bruce looked to Barbara, as if looking for assistance.
"Dr Nelson is on his way over, Bruce. He'll do the post-op check in about two minutes." Barbara told him.
"Okay," Bruce repeated, looking a little lost.
Dick brusquely wiped his tears and turned back toward Jason. "You scared us crapless, Little Wing." he said. "Don't give us that crap about us not having to be here. We're family." he added, motioning Tim to approach.
"Gimme a sec," Tim replied, delaying. "Still catching my breath."
His mind was still reeling, trying to find excuses if anyone wanted him to come closer again, when Dr Kent Nelson barged through the door with Dr Cross right on his heels. "Right, hello, Jason. I'm Dr Kent Nelson. This is your surgeon, Dr Pieter Cross. Can you tell me how you feel right now?"
Jason shrugged. "A little dizzy, I probably have a concussion." he said. "My mouth felt like it's been stuffed with cottons overnight."
"Oh, those are just the effects of the sedatives. Do you know what day it is?" Dr Nelson asked.
"Sure, Thursday, right? I had the accident on Monday." Jason answered. "I think Jack gave me some painkillers. It doesn't affect the surgery, does it? I mean, it's just some over the counter pills."
Dr Nelson nodded slowly. "Do you remember the date? I need to assess your lucidity." he added.
"The play was August 10th. Sooo.. today is August 13?" Jason said.
Dr Nelson exchanged glances with Dr Cross. "Jason," Dr Nelson started, his eyes landed on Bruce fleetingly, warning him. "Today is June 29."
Jason glared at the two doctors, alternately, his expression showed that he thought the two doctors were playing with him. "Doc, dates don't go backward." he smirked. But his left hand was clutching Bruce's hand really tightly that his knuckles were starting to turn white. "What is this, you guys? You guys trying to prank me or something?" he said, and Tim could hear the catch in his otherwise cheerful voice.
"Jason, your accident had happened last year." Dr Cross explained. "Your leg had not been pinned, and they have healed wrong. I've re-broken them and put pins in them, right fibula and left tibia."
"Okay," Jason said. "What do you mean last year? It just..." Alfred shifted on Jason's right side, and Jason promptly focused on him. "Al? What's... why?"
"Where do you think you are right now, Jason?" Dr Nelson asked again.
"Los Angeles! Where's Jack?" Jason demanded. "You.. you didn't throw him out, did you? I know you could be petty, Bruce, but please! He's..."
Jason's eyes suddenly landed on Tim, who fidgeted, a little unsure-- well, no. A lot unsure of what to do, really. Apparently, the presence of the adults helped little with sparing Tim the drama. "Birdie, tell me what's going on, please..." Jason pleaded. And Dick motioned Tim to come closer animatedly.
No more excuses, Tim came from Alfred's side, that's a little less crowded. "You're home, Jason." he told Jason. "We brought you home." he looked at Dr Nelson and asked, "can I tell him the whole thing?"
Dr Nelson nodded. "Go ahead."
"Please don't freak out..." Tim pleaded to Jason. But when Jason impatiently patted the spot next to him, Tim conceded and took a seat on the bed, holding Jason's hand. "Your accident was last year. You've been missing for about as long. Bruce got here in September, and looked for you for like, five months. And then a few weeks ago Babs and I went to LA, gathered a little more help, and finally found you."
Jason had started to shake when Tim was talking.
"Jason? I understand that this is too much to take right now. But you must not hyperventilate." Dr Nelson warned.
"Birdie?" Jason's voice was much, much smaller. "It wasn't... the robin...?"
Tim looked around in the room, wondering if anyone had remembered to return the robin photo back to the room. Jason had taken it along earlier, when he was going in for the surgery. Alfred reached into his inner jacket pocket and retrieved a card-sized photo that Tim knew wasn't the one Jason had. He handed the photo to Jason anyway.
Jason accepted it, taking off his hand from Tim's, and looked at the photo forlornly. He released a shuddering breath, and said, "It wasn't a dream... The red-breasted robin..." And he suddenly look up at Bruce and wailed, "Bruce, I'm so sorry!"
Chapter 19: Chapter 19
Fortunately, in spite of his sudden hysterics, Dr Nelson did not deem a need for Jason to be sedated again.
Jason cried and cried into Bruce's arm, telling them the horror story of how he was brought to a small hospital right after the accident, had his legs merely splinted, and then brought to Napier's house somewhere at the outskirts of Los Angeles. Then he was given a shot, and then he didn't remember anything else. The next thing he knew was that he was crawling across asphalt and there were kids. He remembered Danny and Ellie when Tim showed him their photos, but he didn't know their names. He just said that they looked out for him, and he looked out for them. He was able to walk only a little while before meeting Danny and Ellie.
He could not remember much, just that the photo of red-breasted robin in his jacket kept him feeling like he could get home, someday. That someone would look for him. His head felt cloudy the whole time, and he could not think of what else to do; thus figured out that he was being thrown back to the streets. He knew he had to try to survive, somehow, in a strange city with strange people. He didn't remember wanting to try to figure out how to go home; his head was too clouded and painful to figure out things.
He did remember everything from the time he had met Danny and Ellie, and that they had brought him food. Sometimes there would be people who would try to harass them, and Jason would fight for them. He might be only sixteen, just a few years older than Danny. But he was tall and big enough to fight off three people at once - which he had, at one point.
Food, fortunately, was easy to come by. Unlike Gotham, Los Angeles' population apparently liked to throw away perfectly good food. He remembered that one time, Danny came back to them with a whole large black plastic bag filled with donuts. It might have been a little less fluffy than fresh donuts, but they gorged happily, set aside a dozen for the rest of the day, and shared the loot with the rest of the people around them. There were many homeless like them, some with kids, some with pets; and they all mind their own group's business. But no one would turn down free food.
Tim had left the room a little while later, when Alfred came to pick him up and Dick drove him home. The next day, when Tim returned to visit him, Jason again patted the space on his bed.
"I saw your eyes back then and suddenly thought of-- wanted to go home." Jason said. "Thanks for finding me, Birdie."
"I had to," Tim admitted. "The only option if I didn't find you is that you were... not alive. And I can't... that'll ruin Bruce." and me, said the voice in his head.
Jason was quiet for a moment. "Babs told me you'd found me by kind of referring back to the things I've told you back then." he smiled wryly, "at least that means you'd listened."
"Well, you're a good storyteller." Tim grinned back. "We've all missed you, you know."
Jason was glaring at him, a little blankly, making Tim's heart beat a little faster with worry. He snapped his fingers in front of Jason's face. "Hey, you okay?"
Jason blinked, annoyedly. "Yeah, I was just thinking." he said. "The robin. I could remember it being... safe, y'know? Even in the worst times, it... it kept me 'safe', I think..." he shrugged. "You remember when you took the photo?"
"Yeah, sure. Robinson's park. We were making your portfolio and headshots." Tim smiled. "I still haven't given it to you."
Jason smiled ruefully. "I'd offer to pay. But I think I'm broke now..." he said. "We... I should've known he was a con... The gigs he'd gotten me were... crap, and that's just me being nice." Jason inhaled and exhaled loudly. "I hope somebody would take a spade to his damn head and club him to death."
Tim stilled. No one had told Jason that Napier was dead, yet. He'd had another psychotherapy session with Dr Nelson yesterday, and another one this morning. In true, cheeky, Jason form, Jason stated that he has no secrets, and the sessions can take place with whoever present listening along. Yesterday was Bruce; and this morning, Alfred was there.
Tim just thought that Jason simply did not want to be alone. In a way, neither did Tim. He knew what it's like to be alone and lonely, and although there are still times he preferred to be alone; Tim already knew that he would never be lonely with the plethora of people looking out for him.
They chatted and played the video games that Tim had brought along. Jason wanted to know how Tim's school was doing, and there was a little pang of jealousy in his voice when he realized that he'd missed two whole years of school - while Tim would be graduating. Tim was more surprised when Jason apologized for missing Tim's birthday. Birthdays. Plural.
"I'd intended to at least send you a postcard." he said. "Thought if I'd made it big in LA, I'd even send you a plane ticket."
"You can still get me a postcard for this year's birthday." Tim told him.
"Oh yeah, I totally intend to give you something. Fifteen eh, Timmy?" there was a tinge of sadness in his voice. "You going to get your Learner's Permit and all? I'll probably get you a keychain or something." Jason's voice still sounded cheery, but Tim could catch the strain in it.
"How about..." he turned to face Jason. "You get better. By my birthday, I expect you to be in a wheelchair already and get there. And on my sixteenth birthday, you can be my 'accompanying adult' for the permit's test. I'll be starting the lessons after my birthday, anyway. Once you graduated to crutches, I may even allow you in the backseat." he explained, only partly joking.
Jason replied, "Little birdie, I'mma demand them to put me on wheelchairs tomorrow, what makes you think I'll wait a week?"
"There's this thing called infection that could be serious, you know." Tim deadpanned.
"I've weathered bugs and germs from the streets of LA. I'm practically invincible."
"We're in Gotham."
"Oh snap," Jason quipped. "bugs and germs here have horns, don't they? And like, mainline the devil or something?"
"I'd say so, yes." Tim replied, straight-faced. "So no, you're not getting to wheelchairs tomorrow."
"Day after, then." Jason nodded decidedly.
"Nooo...! Wait until Dr Cross give the all-clear!"
"Tim, buddy, it's my body. I know it best."
"Jay, buddy, Dr Cross has literally see the insides of your body, under your skin, to your bones. I think he knows you better." They were on a glare-off standstill for a few seconds, until Tim put his trump card on the table. "I'mma tell Alfred." he delivered.
Jason groaned in dismay. "Nooo...! You traitor!"
"Then wait until Dr Cross okay-ed you for wheelchair and physiotherapy!" Tim replied, almost smugly.
Jason huffed. "Fine... although I think he'll let me on a wheelchair, anyway, within a few days..."
Tim rolled his eyes. In spite of all of his arguments, he knew that Jason was right. If Jason would try to charm Dr Cross, he could probably get away with practically anything he wanted.
A little voice in his head said that if Jason would be charged with Napier's murder, there would be a massive chance that Jason could charm the juries and whatnot. Like Bruce, Jason definitely know how to capitalize on his good looks.
He shook his head lightly, mentally erasing the idea that Jason had been at fault for anything. No matter what. Jason could not be blamed. Must not be blamed. Of all the things Jason has experienced, being viewed as a murderer must not be one of it. His mind was starting to figure out ways to blame Napier's death on other, unrelated issues. Good thing that Tim could actually think better while his hands were doing something else, because Jason seemed insistent on beating him on the video game they resumed.
His eyes felt swollen, dry and he knew that they would be red. He had wept for a good long time, feeling like such an idiot. Bruce kept telling him that it was all alright, that he wasn't at fault for running off with Napier and ended up like this.
A whole damn year was missing from his life. There were birthdays he'd missed, not just his own. There were memories missing, replaced with blurry memories of his life on the streets.
He looked at Tim, still stoically standing - metaphorically, that is, because Tim was basically snuggling right next to him. He'd tried to thank Tim a number of times for not giving up on him, and Tim would just brush him off; as if it was just another day of life for him. Jason simply could not fathom what could happen to him if he'd not been discovered by Tim. On the streets, definitely. Amnesiac and catatonic, totally.
He was just relieved that he had not resorted to violence like the 'crazies'. There were plenty of those in Gotham's homeless community when he was little. The sane ones would always warn his little 10-year-old self and steered him away from the crazies; those with untreated mental problems or substance problems who would not care if those around them were as down-and-out as they were and demand to be given whatever it is they wanted by using violence.
Jason was realistic. He knew that the longer he was on the street with questionable mental health, he would have ended up just like those 'crazies'. Tim had assured him that he hadn't, and that the only acts of violence he had done were of the protective kind. But he still has the nagging feeling that Tim was not telling him the whole truth.
And now Tim was snuggling next to him, seemingly half asleep as the marathoning of the series he'd suggested still running on TV. When he moved, and Tim didn't even blink, he knew that Tim was already asleep with his eyes not-closed properly. He draw up the blanket and smoothed some hair from Tim's forehead, and placed a chaste kiss.
Whatever would happen, he knew that this boy will forever be in his foremost priority. Anyone thinking of hurting him would absolutely regret it. Even if it means he would never get on stage again. Whatever Tim wanted, Jason decided, Tim will get. And Jason would be on the forefront to help and cheer him on.
Right now, though, he shall need to get his physical strength back, especially on his legs. He started mapping out the possible exercises that he could do without aggravating his lower legs, to present to the doctors. He remembered Bruce's words of "figure out the pros and cons, all possible questions and arguments, all roads and pathways; until you can eat, breathe, and sleep the character as if you were born as it."
Fine, it might have been a suggestion on how to understand a character. But that doesn't mean it cannot be applied on everything else. So he started a note on the tablet that Barbara had given him earlier, and listed down a good number of exercises he could do on his own. Physiotherapy be damned. He shall get up on his feet and/or be as mobile as possible as soon as possible.
Chapter 20: Chapter 20
Thanks to Barbara and Dinah — and to no small extent, Diana Prince's — collective efforts; the news of Napier's death and investigation were kept to a minimal. As Barbara predicted, the local police had started with the more 'obvious' suspect: Jason. That, too, was kept out of the news. At least in Gotham.
When Jason was finally able — and allowed — to tell and reveal the things he remembered of the times following the accident, he was accompanied by Bruce, Barbara, and Dr Kent Nelson. The whole questioning by the police took part at the hospital, in Jason's room. Although Jason had asked for Tim to be there, too, Tim had to miss it - the police came at seven a.m.; clearly expecting Jason to be alone. None of them must have predicted Bruce and Barbara coming from the Wayne Tower penthouse - located right next to the hospital. Nor did they expect the insistence of Nurse Crystal Brown — Stephanie's mother — to not leave Jason unsupervised by an adult until Dr Kent Nelson arrived, mere minutes before Bruce and Barbara came in.
Jason's smile at Stephanie when Tim brought her in was majestic.
"Thanks for having your mom look out for me, Blond-- Steph." he said, quickly correcting himself.
Stephanie shrugged. "I told her it was you who'd gotten me to theater. All she said was not to follow your footsteps further." she grinned mischievously. "...and you still may call me Blondie. I liked having a nickname."
Jason laughed. "Ha! Yeah, I agree. I'd tell me not to follow my footsteps, too. But it would be kinda moot. Besides, this adventure is far from over, I think."
And oh, boy, was he right. Again, Tim had to give Barbara credit for somehow being able to manage the company while running an investigation under the radar.
They had eventually decided to hire Victor Sage, who had ended up interviewing Jason only with Tim present - by Jason's own consent. There was virtually no gaps from what Jason told Dr Nelson and the cops with what he'd told Sage.
Jason had recalled a few fights while he was somewhat unconscious, both involving Danny or Ellie; and Tim was certain that if Sage — or the cops, for that matter — would cross-check Jason's words against Danny or Ellie, they would corroborate the stories. Sage confirmed it a few days later, as he called with the report of having chatted with Danny and Ellie, and their mother.
What Sage brought along was the news that the local police had not come to either Danny, Ellie, or their mother. That, in Tim's mind, confirmed his suspicions that the cops would likely blame Jason for Napier's death, and blithely overlooking the underlying issue of Napier holding Jason prisoner and neglecting his injuries.
For the legal defenses, though, Barbara finally decided on Kate Spencer. Spencer, a former ADA of Gotham City before she 'crossed over to the other side' and became a Public Defender, was well known to be a ferocious defender of the wrongly accused. She was also known to flat out refuse to defend criminals or those she knew to be guilty. In spite of the numerous complaints from said criminals, she did not care, adamant on only defending the innocent.
"We need to come up with a different angle." she said when they gave her Sage's report.
"So relying on the lost street kid with daddy issue is no longer in the books?" Dick quipped.
"Definitely not. That might work for you, Grayson. But not in this case." Spencer said. "I would like your permission to dig through Wayne House's business deals." she directed the comment to Barbara.
"What are you looking for? I'm not going to forbid you from looking, just maybe I can help if I know what you're looking for." Barbara replied.
"That's what I don't know, actually. There could be something in the papers — finances, deals — that lead to Napier or, presumably, the person who wanted Napier dead. There has to be a cross in there somewhere. There is just no rhyme or reason why Napier would zoom in to Jason instead of Grayson here, for instance. Or maybe even to young Drake here - he's got some assets of his own that Napier could assimilate without much fanfare or effort."
Tim blinked as a schematic started to appear in his brain. "Oh, I think I know what you're looking for. The first question of a murder is not 'who did it', right? It's 'who benefits'." he said. "You want to see if anyone other than Napier would benefit from his own death."
Spencer glared at Tim with such intensity that Tim reflexively curled back into himself and kind of hide behind Jason. "You... I think you would've been a more beneficial hostage, but I can also see why you'll be more of an effort. You're smart..." she paused and looked at Jason. "not saying you're not, just..."
"No need to backtrack, lady, Timmy is a genius. Not smart. He'd seen a scheme from miles away even before anyone come close." Jason waved her off. They have decided on having the meeting in Jason's hospital room, and Jason was quite happy with it, he did not feel like he was being left out. But for Tim, the main reason would be the fact that Barbara has full control of all kind of surveillance devices within the hospital. If there is an anomaly - i.e. a bug or a hidden camera; she would know right away. "What scheme then, Timmers? Care to share with the rest of the class?" Jason prompted, prodding Tim to get out from behind him.
"I'm not sure yet.." Tim admitted reluctantly. "It's just... I thought it a bit-- kind of jumping the gun with the way Napier had built his scheme. He would not need to get you seen in LA's theater industry like he'd done. He would not need to make you visible in the industry, even by booking you the shows you've deemed to be small gigs. He could just get you there, and then ditch you, banking on the idea that you won't call Bruce to get you home out of shame for doing small gigs instead of 'major' LA shows." he explained.
"Even if he wouldn't call Bruce, Jay would've called me." Dick pointed out. "Or Babs, or you."
Jason nodded. "Yeah. Probably Dick, though - he owed me fifty bucks. Still owe me, actually." he said, pointedly ignoring Dick's dirty looks at him. "I'm not stupid enough to not know how to call collect." He added, maturely emphasizing his statement by sticking out his tongue at Dick.
"Or he could've gotten you hooked to drugs or alcohol - quicker still even with you resisting." Tim pointed out. "I'm just reading out all kinds of scheme here - maybe more of the 'fallen angel' trope of Hollywood."
"I don't and won't do drugs, ever." Jason replied. Then he paused, looking at his IV line. "Okay, maybe once my pins are out, I'll stop. But this thing is prescribed." he added defensively, pointing at the IV.
"That's just saline, you only have painkillers when you go to sleep, and the next painkillers are on standby for physical therapy sessions." Barbara told him.
Jason glared at her in surprise. "What?? You mean I can ask for painkillers after physical therapies?? Why didn't you tell me this yesterday?" he demanded.
"Well, you didn't look like you need it." Barbara pointed out. "They did give you one at night, didn't they?"
"I was miserable the whole day!" Jason protested.
"Guys? Focus?" Dick groaned. "Tim was giving us his theories here."
Jason pouted, but returned his glare to Tim. "Go on. I might be persuaded with alcohol, though. But turning someone to an alcoholic can't happen overnight."
"Right. Worst case, but simpler scenario, still, he could just trafficked Jason out of the country." Tim continued. "Instead he just drugged Jason and dumped him out of the way. I'm still not... clear on why."
"I think he just wanted to destroy Bruce." Jason shrugged. "I mean, we all know who Bruce's favorite son is." he added with an waspish grin toward Dick. "And by that I mean the one Bruce would move mountains for. Taking me would not make him move mountains."
"He would, too!" Dick protested. "But, anyway. Regardless of the 'why,' you're still not answering the 'who benefits' question." Dick reminded.
"That's just it. I can't see Napier benefiting much from destroying Bruce. If he wanted fortune, he could just... collaborate, maybe?" Tim mused.
"...on Burlesque shows?" Dick scoffed. "No offense, but he should've collaborated with the Kane House for that. Not us."
"I agree," Jason nodded. "So when did Kane House asked to join again?"
"You're not expecting Kane House to..." Dick gasped.
"Oh no, no. Just curious." Jason clarified. "I mean, I've told you before I left that at this rate, the only houses that would remain in Gotham would be the Wayne and Cobblepot--"
"That's it!" Tim suddenly exclaimed, startling Dick and Jason.
"Jeez, Tim, warn a guy!" Jason retorted.
"Sorry, guys. Just... that's just it. No one would benefit if the Wayne House is destroyed but two: Kane House or Elliott House." Tim said. "Kane House had opted to join Wayne House, due to their familial ties. Elliott House?"
"Mama Elliott have been whistleblowing that she would rather merge than vanish..." Barbara said. "But her son... not so much."
"I thought Tommy Elliott is a physician?" Jason said. "Why would he care for theaters?"
"I don't know. Buuut..." Dick shrugged. "It's the most... well... plausible thing I've heard."
"Right, so we'll bookmark that theory for now and look for supporting evidence." Spencer remarked. "I need to be in court in an hour, folks, so if you'll please excuse me."
They thanked Kate and ordered some Chinese food for their dinner - even after the protests of the nurses. Hey, Jason has problems with his legs, not his tummy. And he's a growing boy. Or so Jason claimed. Plus, it's not like he wouldn't eat the hospital food, anyway. Not even the threat of gaining too much weight to hinder his physical therapy session could deter him from eating.
Chapter 21: Chapter 21
To say that Jason was a 'determined schmuck' - quoting Dick - would be an understatement. Given that he had already has quite a formidable upper-body strength to start with, he was starting on crutches by the second week of his stay at the hospital - cheerfully ignoring the physical therapist and Dr Cross' consternation. Instead of the month-long stay as planned, Jason demanded to go home by the third week, claiming he was bored out of his wits.
Tim could not blame him, really. He reckoned that he, too, would be bored out of his wits if he had to stay in a hospital for days on end.
The fanfare of Jason's return, predictably, was loud. While they had managed to slip out of the hospital unnoticed, there was virtually no way they could go in to the Wayne House unnoticed. There were at least a hundred reporters and photographers lining up in front of the theater door, all patiently waiting for Jason to appear. It took some creative bribes to get Jason to come out of the car and smile, Jason, for god's sake! for the photographers.
Thanks to Alfred's persuasion (i.e. he threatened to call the cops for child endangerment against everybody within twenty yards of young Jason here), the photographers dispersed after five minutes and heeded to Bruce's plea that Jason needed his rest. Jason played out the 'needed rest' heavily by leaning into his wheelchair - although he was already able to walk on crutches.
Still, with his hair freshly cut and face freshly scrubbed, anyone with an ounce of heart would have taken pity at Jason's somewhat forlorn glare.
The biggest surprise, at least for Tim and Barbara, came from when they were waiting across the street for the fanfare to subside. Harley Quinn came out from her club, noticed what was happening, and smiled wide before saying, "I'm so glad the boy found his way, the 405 could be confusing."
Tim made sure his camera had recorded Quinn's comment before turning to Barbara, who was clearly as puzzled as he was. Jason's end location where he had lived as a homeless hobo was near the 101 Highway. He made sure that there was no one within hearing range before he asked softly, "Babs, where was the mummy found?"
"Chatsworth, near the Chatsworth Reservoir." Barbara muttered back. "I know, it's only about 10-15 minutes drive through the 405 to the Ventura Exit of the 101."
"I can't remember if it was mentioned anywhere where Napier's body was found." Tim said as they crossed the street to go to the Wayne House. "I'll check."
"You do that. I'm gonna see where the... she was at and or by the time frame." Barbara said, setting her jaw. "I want this to be cracked wide open before any kind of hearing could be scheduled."
"I'm right with you there." Tim agreed.
A few days of searching, and Harley Quinn's comment suddenly made sense after Tim scanned a whole load of tabloid back issues and internet gossip sites. As much as he cringed to see gossip on people he actually knew (e.g. the oh-so-juicy and so not true rumor of Bruce's relationship with numerous movie actresses, or Dick's similar list of girlfriends), some of the gossips kind of revealed the truth of who Jack Napier was.
A cruel, abusive, vicious man with no regard of others aside of himself.
There were numerous photographs of Harley Quinn's bruised face, taken with cellphones of varying qualities (and Tim prayed for the souls of those who had: a. invented digital camera, b. merged said digital camera with cellphones, and c. keep upgrading the quality of the camera), both in LA and in Gotham - as well as in New York, Quinn's hometown. There were many other photographs of Quinn wearing super-heavy makeup, and rampant speculation of the cause. There were even some enterprising souls who had 'played with the contrasts' to show bruises under Quinn's makeup.
"I'm still amazed at those people who are dedicated enough to... photoshop someone's makeup off." Stephanie commented. "Usually they would photoshop makeup on."
Tim snorted a laugh. "In this case, they're benefiting us, really."
"'Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned'," Stephanie quoted dramatically.
"Heav'n has no Rage, like Love to Hatred turn'd, Nor Hell a Fury, like a Woman scorn'd'," Jason's voice from the door nearly startled Tim. He had made his wheelchair as silent as Barbara's, apparently. "So you think Quinn had killed Napier because she was tired of being his punching bag?"
"The timeline fits," Tim told him. "He would have to be dead after they flew out of Gotham after the opening of their Punch and Judy show. Quinn was back at the next day show - she was Judy, after all. By that time, Danny swore to me that you were already with them for a whole month. He told me he was still scared and trusted you to protect Ellie and they'd both not strayed away from you for the whole first few weeks.."
Jason looked contemplative at Tim's words, and he was silent long enough for Stephanie to prompt, "dude, you okay?"
He snapped out of his reverie and nodded. "Yeah. Just... do you still talk to him? Danny, I mean? How are they doing?"
"I do," Tim told him. "They're doing alright. Helena found them a cheap housing that puts Danny and Ellie in her school district. Dinah got their mom a job at Holt Industries. They'll be alright."
"Okay, great." Jason smiled ruefully. "I just... maybe, you know, I'm hoping that I'd get to meet them not as a defendant."
"You won't be!" Tim convinced him. "I absolutely don't believe you did that. Don't you let those vile cops get into your head now."
"I know I don't... I didn't do it, Tim. Just... you know, if there is no other evidence, they will try me anyway." Jason pointed out. "Hence the defense preparations, isn't it? That's what we all do-- did. Stay prepared for all probabilities."
Tim did not miss the bitterness in Jason's voice. That's what Bruce had drilled into their heads at every rehearsal. Every recital. Every day. They prepare for every eventuality: power failure, someone slipped on stage or slip their line, wardrobe malfunction.
"You were prepared, Jason..." Tim said quietly. "Remember the accident? I saw you pull out a knife. You knew the danger, you saw the script and the probability, and reacted accordingly. It's just... it was just too... devious of a script for you to handle." Jason was quietly staring at him. Stephanie, too. So he continued. "You couldn't have expected the concrete at the musician's pit. I knew you expected people catching you down there - and by all logic and scripts, there should have been people there under the tarp. That led me to believe that the accident was not an accident. Someone else was prepared to the probability of you escaping the noose and expected you to die on the floor. You did not die. Instead--" Tim blinked as a thought crossed his mind. "Instead... holy shit I should've seen this one..." he muttered as he returned to the computer and started searching.
He knew Jason and Stephanie had exchanged glances with each other, confusion apparent on their faces. But he ignored them in favor of searching through the web. And when he couldn't find what he wanted, he went into the Ünternet - the deep web. At the same time, he sent a text to Barbara: 'Find the son at J's accident date. Am looking & can't find anything yet.'
The message sent, he typed a new search string into the engine. Within seconds, he'd gotten his result.
"Damn it." he cursed as he read the document.
"Oookay, Boy Wonder. Sharing is caring." Stephanie quipped.
"I know who killed Napier and sabotaged Jason. And I know what he's gonna do next. I'm gonna need to warn Dick." he said, bolting out the door. "Steph! Stay with Jason! Don't split up at all cost!" he called back, ignoring Jason and Stephanie's confused glares.
He has no time to explain. If he was right, Dick could be killed by tomorrow night - the House's premiere of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Dick would star as Skipper. While only a small part (Dick needed to be mobile through the play and not tied to the stage the whole night), Skipper would commit suicide in the play, and according to their script, the suicide will be done by self-inflicted gunshot.
The easiest 'accident' to make.
Tim found Bruce and Dick in the office, told them of his suspicion, and watched as Alfred, the only military veteran in their midst, inspected the prop gun.
"I am certainly unsure whether to be jubilant or sad to see Master Timothy's allegation proven true." was Alfred's comment. Tim was confused for approximately three seconds, until Alfred opened his clenched hand and revealed bullets. "These are real bullets, young Sir. And this is a real gun." he said. "We do not have nor use real guns in the dress rehearsal yesterday. Or ever in my entire career in theater."
"Well, obviously. Otherwise you'd be talking to me through an Ouija board by now." Dick quipped. "Damn, Tim."
"Yeah," Tim agreed absently.
"What do we do now, B?" Dick demanded.
"We get dressed. Show must go on." Bruce decided. "Alfred will do the last minute walk-through on the stage and pits, and we all do like we always do: get out there and make people happy. This does not get shown to anyone until I get Agent Prince here, okay, Tim?"
Tim nodded, but then remembered. "Jason and Stephanie would've suspected something. And we need to protect Jason." he said.
"Where is Jason now?" Bruce asked.
"In my room, with Steph." Tim replied. "I told them to stay with each other."
"I'll go get them and Barbara." Dick offered. "I'd rather they all stay in one spot until the day ends. Or this jerk is cuffed. Whichever comes first."
Chapter 22: Chapter 22
Look, ma! Regular updates!
Yes, adulting, yadda yadda yadda... I've just sent two reports and decided to update. Yay me. :D
In case anyone noticed, I cut back the number of chapters - I joined several short chapters together and sooo... just a few chapters left.
For the first time ever, Tim could see the tension between the actors - there were more screams and snappish comments than ever, and not just because the play was the first time the House had presented Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Not because the tickets for the premiere, and the next performances to the week's end, were sold out.
Jason's comment put it to perspective. "Huh, Bruce is edgy today..."
"I noticed." Tim agreed. "I'd be edgy too if someone's out to sabotage my play and maybe hurt my family." he admitted, fiddling with his camera. He finally decided to take a photo of Jason, who glared at him with tilted head and eyes blazing with amusement.
"What was that for?" Jason demanded.
"Posterity," Tim grinned and checked the photo. "Looked alright enough for a head shot." he showed the picture. It was indeed good enough for a head shot for a portfolio. Even in the barely-there lighting against Jason's warm-toned skin, his blue eyes still shone piercingly.
Jason grabbed the camera and pulled Tim onto his lap, and then pressed their cheeks together as he extended his camera-holding hand and took a photo. Tim squawked indignantly a little, but did not protest too much. "There," he nodded with blatant satisfaction as he handed the camera back to Tim after reviewing the photo. "That's for my posterity. I want that printed a lot of times. Me with my babybird. You delete that, I'm gonna punch you."
Tim found the grin remained on his face long after Jason wheeled himself away and Tim got to his position. While Jason was never frugal with physical affection, hearing the possessive pronoun ignited something warm in the pit of Tim's belly.
The warmth was cut off by the chill of something else - something he was not sure what, while he took a lot more photos. The usual and unusual tension on the actors' respective faces. The almost-zen calm as they huddled one final time before the curtain opened. The eagerness of the stagehands as they moved with practiced efficiency. Even Alfred's cold and calm posture as he directed numerous things all at once around him while standing regally in the middle of the floor of the Back-of-House.
From his position at the rafters above the stage, Tim could see Barbara's red hair and Stephanie's blonde one at Stage Left, and three black-haired men at the Stage Right side. He could also see the lighting booth, high up above the balconies and the person inside it. He caught a good photo as the operator, Cullen Row, gave him a peace sign.
He took photos of the audience, too; the scowling apathetic ones who were there for the sake of being in a premiere show, the raptly attentive ones who were there for the show; the gossipy socialites talking under their white-gloved hands; and the teenagers - behaving the same way as the adults with varying degrees. The telescopic lenses of his camera caught them all.
He must have concentrated too much on Dick's short appearance and taking as many photos as possible when Dick did the 'suicide' act, he had not noticed someone was on the next rafter beside his. It was only after the gun made its shot, and Dick was clearly not dead (from his position, that is - the audience gasped loud enough to let him know that they were convinced), that he heard somebody cursed. Somebody wearing dark-colored garb from head-to-toe and a mask.
"Oh shit... looks like I'll have to settle for the third kid, then."
Tim suddenly wished he had paid more attention to Dick explaining things about aerials and 'flying', way back when he'd first hung out with the Wayne family.
The roof rafters and beams were sturdy - obviously. But some were rigged to drop things from them - starting from confetti, balloons, or sometimes even smoke. Contrary to popular beliefs, some of those things were heavy, and thus lead to reinforced beams and trapdoors. These were different than the beams and trapdoors that drops people - because Bruce is a stickler to safety and whatnot and Alfred likes to make sure that no one would be on the receiving end of several pounds of solid bulk of confetti on their head. Bad idea, and a good one for lawsuit.
Tim did not squeal as he swung from beams to beams, avoiding whoever that masked dude is. Whatever the other guy's plan is, Tim definitely did not plan on having the guy catch him. Furthermore, Tim was not wearing any harness - even if the guy only planned to toss him to the ground, the 15+ feet drop would hurt, if not kill him. Tim definitely has no plan of falling off the beams.
And then something fast and small zipped past him.
Tim nearly lost his grip when he realized that a bullet had embedded itself into the beam about two inches next to his hand. Among the noises of the music from the stage, he had not heard the bang of the gun. And dear lord did he screeched out loud when the same something small and fast zipped past his ear, much, much too near for his liking. He quickly swung to the other side, taking a zigzag route that should take him to the FOH - front of house - where he could safely drop to the ground and seek security.
In spite of his zigzagging, a bullet finally met grazed his flesh, and Tim screamed in pain. He looked down to the wound, on his left rib, wincing at the pain and took an extra half a second to reconsider his route. The zigzagging might have saved him from getting said bullet smack in the middle of his torso, but it would take at least another ten beams to get him to the orchestra pit. A straight line would take three swings, but the end beam would be a little too far for him.
He gritted his teeth and took the straight line. Two more beams, and somebody swung past him from the sides mid-flight and carried him sideways, away from his direction. "No!" Tim gasped, trying to squirm away. From the corner of his eye, he saw another figure flying away, and another.
"Shh, Tim, I've got you." Dick's voice sounded in his ear and Tim went limp. Dick's heavier body easily carried Tim all the way to the platform, which he had been avoiding - he was figuring that it would make him too easy of a target if the other guy has had solid footing, too. "They've got him, too." Dick said once they both landed on solid ground.
"They?" Tim asked quizzically.
"Jason and Steph."
Dick's one hand was pressing Tim's wound, while effectively made it difficult for him to turn around. But he managed, and saw that the masked figure had his arms restrained by Jason, and he pulled up his camera just in time to capture Stephanie swinging a sweet right hook onto the masked man's jaw, and the man went limp.
"Ouch, that gotta hurt like a mofo." Dick quipped. "You good to go down, Jay?" he asked, and Tim realized that Dick has the security's commlinks in his ear. He couldn't hear Jason's reply, but Dick nodded. "Right, meet you two backstage."
"What was..." He winced and gasped as the pain on his side flared once his adrenaline rush abated.
Dick pulled out a piece of rag and pressed it onto the wound. "Press this tightly on your wound and just take it easy, I'll carry you to the back." he commanded. Tim knew better than to argue as Dick slung him over his shoulder. Tim just closed his eyes as he felt the weightlessness of the flight - this time, in full safety. He knew that Dick would never drop him. And his mind drifted to his very first flying lessons through the rafters, just before blackness consumed his consciousness.
I should've posted this yesterday. Not apologizing, per se, because life happens. It's just that my strictly-scheduled muse is kind of scowling real hard at me right now..
Tim woke up to a stinging pain on his side, and Jason's face looking down at him from his left side. Also Stephanie's blonde locks on the other side. He would have playfully tugged said blonde if his arms would comply with his mind a little.
"The FBI - took Quinn this afternoon for questioning." somebody - Dick, likely, said from somewhere on his right. Because only Dick could voice something like 'FBI' and 'questioning' into sounding like 'sunshine' and 'apple pie'.
"Hi, kiddo." Jason smiled at him. "Thought you'd be coming 'round 'bout this time."
"Who..." Tim croaked, and winced at his own voice, sounding like a few dozen toads were singing. It felt like said toads were frolicking in his throat, too. Jason promptly shoved a straw into his mouth.
"Drink up. You've been out for like, through the night. Dr Thompkins just gave you like, 20 stitches for your wound. Followed with a very scathing comment at the doctor who caused that wound." Jason grinned impishly. "I think I heard her said something about reporting him to the Doctors' Association or something? Or was it surgeon's association? I dunno. I suppose she'll make sure he'll never practice medicine ever again on the grounds of insanity."
"Doctor...?" Tim croaked again, even after the water went down his throat. There were still several metaphorical frogs lingering. His brain told him that he should be glad he wasn't living in a Harry Potter world - otherwise metaphorical toads could be literal.
"Oh yeah, Dr Thomas Elliott." Stephanie replied, finally getting into Tim's line of vision. "I am very proud to say that my right hook will be forever immortalized in the bruise for that jackass' mugshot when he was arrested for attempted murder." she said. Jason snickered.
"Blondie's got a mean right hook," Jason said.
Stephanie bowed exaggeratedly. "Thanks, got a lot of practice with wankers at the hospital. There's bound to be at least one whenever I'd go there to pick up my mom."
Tim turned a little to look at Jason.
"How did you get up there...?" he wanted to know.
"Hey, I have great upper body strength--" Jason replied, a little indignantly.
"--he's a Dorito." Stephanie added at the same time.
"--and I can walk, thank you very much. Just a little sore when I walk too long." Jason finished. That Tim knew. Just didn't think that Jason would have literally taxed his physique so severely just to protect Tim...
"Did you guys knew he'll be there?" Tim wondered out loud. The scheme against Dick was quite vivid. But Tim... he would never, in a million years, thought that he would be next on the list of targets.
"Babs told us to keep an eye out when she couldn't find Elliott anywhere. By the way, he'll be charged with manslaughter, first and foremost. Mama Elliott's body was found yesterday." Dick explained. "He'd claimed she had a heart attack, but they're totally going to autopsy her thoroughly this time. And by they, I mean the FBI."
"Ah! The hero is awake!" Barbara called as she wheeled in. "You should know that I've sent all of your findings to Agent Prince, and she was reallydelighted for the 'anonymous tip.'"
"Anonymous?" Tim tried to get up, and winced as his side tightened. Jason and Dick's arms were quickly around him, helping him get up and settled him comfortably in a sitting position.
"Lighten up a little, Timmers. You don't want Leslie scowling at you for popping those stitches." Dick told him.
"Yeah, okay... but anonymous?"
"Yep, the LA cops were still continuing the investigation against Jason, definitely. But your findings tied Napier very closely to Elliott, and Quinn's testimony has tipped the favors onto our side, heavily." Barbara explained. "It appeared that Quinn, finding Jason in Napier's LA house, had... how do I say this--"
"A burst of maternal instinct?" Stephanie suggested, smirking contemptuously.
Barbara scowled, and then shrugged. "Eugh. Fine. Maternal instinct - as much as the feminist in me hate the insinuation that you explicitly have to be female to do the right thing like rescuing a kid out of an insane maniac's... Anyway! Apparently she and Isley had taken Jason out of there after punching Napier and Elliott. She admitted of releasing Jason near the Ventura Highway - the 101, hoping he'd find a hospital and find his way home. She didn't expect him to be absolutely drugged and semi-catatonic and fell back to his street-instincts, instead of simply calling for help."
"So she'd killed Napier?" Tim asked.
"No she didn't. She and her girlfriend Pamela Isley were there. Isley confirmed that she had merely punched Napier and Elliott, and then they threatened the guards - there were five guards - that they were calling the cops. The guards apparently scattered afterward, but Quinn provided some of the guards' names to the feds. Diana said that the FBI's people from their LA Field office should be in the crime scene now, finding the evidence. My gut feelings said that Elliott might have bludgeoned Napier a while afterward." Barbara continued. "I personally believed that Elliott might have tried to use and/or manipulate Napier to try and ruin Bruce, and when that failed even after a year, he'd just lost his temper."
"First name basis with Agent Prince now, are we?" Dick grinned at Barbara.
"Eh... I've been talking with her a lot." Barbara brushed him off. "Jealous, Dickie?" she smirked. Dick raised an eyebrow mischievously, and Jason reached across and smacked him upside the head.
"Head outta the gutter, Dickiebird!" he said. "Point is that somebody could testify that I'm not a murderer."
"Not just someone, actually. I managed to..." Barbara glared at Jason impenitently. "...get to the traffic cams' archives from approximately five months ago, and found the footage of Quinn and Isley getting you out of her car from the 101's entrance cam, and then several other footages from the buildings around it. They should be glad, too, because of their exoneration as an accessory of crimes pretty much relied on their bright blonde and red hairs."
Tim noticed Barbara's lips quivered a little, in spite of the light scoff at the ending of her sentence. His imagination then supplied the images of Jason crawling on his broken legs all the way down from Ventura Highways to Skid Row. A good distance of 30+ miles. His brain supplied that the distance would take approximately eight hours of walking - for a healthy individual. Crawling on broken legs would have taken Jason days.
"Cool," Jason breathed a relieved sigh. "All's well ends well, then?"
"There are... still the due processes. You're technically on house-arrest, Jason. Diana requests it to Bruce." Barbara told him. "And you're not allowed to leave the country, obviously."
"Right, I'd just like to take my vacation to Europe right about now, thanks." Jason quipped, flipping an imaginary long hair haughtily. Then he looked at Tim and grinned. "...Or maybe along with the birthday boy-to-be here. Next Wednesday, isn't it?"
Tim definitely made a mental note to figure out how to stop blushing. Dick, Barbara, and Stephanie were definitely not helping matter any.
"Oooh, sweet lil fifteen!" Dick gushed. "I'm throwing a party."
"I'm totally helping. Let's go, Grayson, we have some scheming to do."
"Keep me in the loop, kids. I'm definitely gonna budget for this." Barbara said, turning around as if preparing to whip up a budget for a party.
"Guys...!" Tim groaned. "Seriously..."
"Yes, seriously." Jason said, wrapping his arm around Tim and clasped Tim's mouth. Tim had to fight the urge to childishly lick Jason's hand. "I didn't get my 15th, or 16th party, Timmers. I don't want you to have the same fate." he said. "Besides, I could use a good party here."
Tim found out that he did not want to see Jason's sad smile again. He nodded. Followed by instinctively wrapping his arms around Jason. Still, Tim was sure his brain did not consent his mouth to say out loud, "my Jaybird."
He froze, as he felt Jason tensed, too. But apparently he did not say it as loud as he thought, because Barbara, Dick, and Stephanie were still bickering among themselves about Tim's birthday party. Jason did not tense for long, as he released Tim from his hug and grinned. "Possessive little Timmybird." he said. His smile warmed Tim's heart more than any blankets could as Tim leaned his head on Jason's shoulder.
"Don't ever fly the coop again, okay?"
Jason nodded. "I promise I won't if you won't."
"And I want that European vacation for my 16th."
Chapter 24: Chapter 24
Huh. I don't play chess and haven't a clue - until I googled something - that today was like, international chess day or something...
Anyway! Just the epilogue to go! Thank you everyone who had left kudos, commented, or still reading up to this point in general!
"So it was all part of Elliott's scheme to usurp the Wayne House by kind of destroying Bruce by... hurting his kids." Tim concluded.
"Yeeeah, I'm still lost, too. Our dearly beloved little genius birdie here figured it all out and kind of put the jigsaw pieces together." Jason said.
"It's not really that difficult, really. When I remembered that once upon a time, Bruce had told me that he and Tommy Elliott used to play chess and Elliott would have like, contingency plans after contingency plans to take Bruce's king off the board and not so much to make himself the opposing king, I suddenly realized the pattern. Bruce was definitely the king, and we're all the other pieces. Elliott placed Dick as the metaphorical queen, and thus wouldn't even try to get to Dick before all of the pawns were removed - so to speak. But Jason, he saw Jason as the bishop - his elimination would affect Bruce, but not mourned as much as Dick's would have. So he thought..."
"He never realized that Bruce may be the King, but Barbara was the queen. Ironies notwithstanding." Jason snickered good-naturedly. "I mean, I'd put Timmy here as the queen, but he said he's the bishop..."
"...one of the bishops," Tim corrected. "Dick was the other bishop, really. He enabled me to do a lot of things. And Barbara was definitely the proverbial queen of our side of the board; and Elliott sacrificed his queen - his mother - when he started his scheme."
In spite of LA's intense summer heat, it was quite a nice day today. But it was made even nicer with friendly faces - Danny, Ellie, and their mother; as Tim and Jason explained what was happening to them. They were fascinated, more even when Tim showed them the actual chess moves using his laptop. Ellie wanted to learn chess, so she "can beat 'em mean people at school!"
Danny actually can play a little chess, and was thoroughly fascinated at the insidious progression as showed by Tim. "This is even more fascinating than them horror movies..." he remarked.
The month-long trial of the murder of Jack Napier started with Jason's acquittal from the list of suspects by the LA Police, and followed with Harley Quinn and Pamela Isley's testimony that Elliott had been there - at Napier's place - just shortly before his death.
The LA District Attorney was surprisingly compliant - offered to go to Gotham for Jason's testimony instead of making Jason go to LA. But Jason preferred the other way, and thus the entire family, including Alfred, Barbara, and Dr Thompkins, made their way to LA.
Tim, however, knew that Jason just wanted to go to LA to check on Danny and Ellie. He promptly arranged for the meeting, at their new home, a few floors down from Dinah Lance and Helena Bertinelli's penthouse at Culver City. Barbara eventually told him that the building belonged to Oliver Queen, Dinah's boyfriend. Oliver, one of the more well-known billionaires in the world, has no problem with people staying over and not paying rent - or so Dinah said. Rent, according to Oliver, should just be seen as a sign of respect and accountability; not for profit of the building owners'.
Ellie's delight at seeing Jason was one of the most beautiful sights Tim was glad to be able to capture on camera.
"Only the vilest of people would want to hurt people through their children, blood or otherwise." Danny's mother said as she put her arms around Jason. "I've never gotten the chance to thank you, my dear, for protecting mine."
Jason was wistful. "Back then, ma'am, before my luck changed and Bruce got me off the streets, it was only logical for kids to stay with each other - keep each other safe." he said, smiling. "I guess when I was... unconscious, I just reverted back to that."
"I'm not happy that you had to have that experience, but am glad that you did." she said. "Ellie couldn't stop talking about you."
"Sorry I can't remember much of it, Ellie." Jason told the little girl.
"That's okay," Ellie said. "Danny said you were sick. But now you're all better!"
"Yes I am."
"And you're home with your family now." she added. Stated. "Me, too."
"Yes I am, thanks to Timmy here." Jason grabbed Tim into a headlock. "If he wasn't so stubborn..." he paused. "none of us would get home, maybe."
Tim did not blush. Well, not until Jason pressed a big wet kiss onto his cheek, and Ellie did the same thing.
"You're a superhero, Timmy!" Ellie decided. Danny laughed. But he slapped Tim's shoulder.
"Ain't gonna kiss you, bro, but I'm glad you're a superhero, too." he grinned.
"I'm not!" Tim insisted. "I just... do what needs to be done. Do the right thing."
"That, I think, is the definition of hero, my dear." Danny's mom said. "Because 'the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing'," she quoted. As they turned to leave, she hugged them both. "Be happy, boys. And be good men to each other."
She added something, whispered something to Jason that Tim couldn't hear, but for Jason's reply, "I will, ma'am." It took them a few dozen blocks of distance, back toward Bruce's Penthouse at Wilshire, for Tim's curiosity to be piqued.
"What did she say to you?" he asked.
"Hmm?" Jason hummed as he looked out the driver's side window.
"The one you answered that you will?" he pressed.
Jason hesitated for a moment, and then said, "she told me to look after you."
They were both quiet until they were well halfway toward the penthouse, when Jason asked again. "Okay, this is... awkward. But... okay. You don't see me as your brother, do you?"
Tim startled, looked at Jason with mixed emotions. "Uh..." he hesitated. "I... you won't be mad either way?" he cringed inwardly, feeling beyond embarrassed.
Jason took his time in answering. "Not 'mad', per se. A little upset if I'm wrong. But I'm quite sure I'm not. So what's the answer?"
Tim would have loved to be able to give out smart answers on a whim, like Jason just did. Instead, his mouth prattled. "No, not a brother. But-- but more than a friend. A really good friend. Bestest friends. My-- I dunno... I couldn't see you as a brother. I mean, maybe because Dick was like the only brother anyone could ever need and then some. But you're great! I mean... I wouldn't have... I wouldn't have insisted to go look for you if I didn't think you needed your family. Us, I mean. I-- I--" he spluttered to a halt. "You're gonna hate me now, aren't you?" he added forlornly, realizing how stupid his words were.
Jason side-eyed him, and then laughed. "Oh god... Timmers! No! I'm not gonna hate you! I just wanted to confirm something without pushing you, alright?" he said once he stopped laughing. "Okay, now we're getting somewhere. How's your dating life, by the way?"
The non-sequitur really threw Tim off. "What?"
"Dating. You know, when you and a friend - commonly of the opposite gender, probably named Stephanie - go somewhere just the two of you." Jason asked with his tone of amusement barely contained.
"We're not dating..." Tim groaned. "Steph... we're not... I mean, we did. I just... didn't feel right for me and I didn't want her to be hurt, you know? She's-- she's my best friend. But--" he gulped. "...different than you. I mean-- I don't know how to say it--"
"How about Cullen's sister, Harper?" Jason's grin felt like it was mocking. Harper Row, one of the actresses of the play and Cullen's sister, was Jason's age. But she has openly declared that she was bisexual and that 'no one in the cast or crew interests me much, thus far.'
"No, no, no! I mean... why are you.. I'm not dating anyone right now!" Tim huffed.
"Okay, okay...! No need to get your panties in knots. Just.." Jason huffed, too, and Tim was suddenly scared that he'd insulted Jason, somewhat. "Look, okay. Dick's gonna say I'm as smooth as a bull in a china shop, right? All I want to know is... well... if you're interested in girls or guys. And if you'll be okay with me wanting to go out with you since we're not brothers and all that, alright?"
Jason was still saying some more things afterward. But Tim's brain has short-circuited at 'wanting to go out with you' and he really wasn't paying attention to the other things Jason said. His brain rebooted as they were about to turn to the parking garage of the penthouse's building.
"Yes," Tim was finally able to say.
"I'd like to go out with you."
Jason barely missed the portal block. "Eek, okay. Next time, you say that when there's no object in front of the car, yeah?" Jason scowled. But he recovered quicker than Tim. "Okay then, how about tomorrow after the inquiries?"
"Testimonial hearing," Tim corrected. "You're not a suspect. Thus no inquiries--"
Jason paused after he parked the car. "That 'okay' for the inquiries or the date?"
"Uh--" Tim blinked at the speed of Jason's brain. "Both?"
"Alright then. We ditch the fam right after, annnd... how's chicken and waffles sound to you?"
"That's in Long Beach, isn't it?"
"Nope, there are others, and I know the best one's nearer than Long Beach." Jason grinned.
"So is that what you do when you got here? Scoping for the best chicken and waffles?" Tim joked, absolutely not paying attention when Jason's arm wrapped around his shoulders and pulled him close to Jason's side.
"Absolutely. Thought about charming you with the waffles, back then. Looks like my plan is working." Jason said as he dragged Tim into the elevator. "Now... just one thing we need to settle up front." Jason said as he circled Tim's arm on his waist.
"We show off to the fam or not?" Tim guessed and cringed simultaneously with Jason.
"They'll fuss," Tim agreed. "Fussing kind of... aggravated me."
"Yeah, me too. So wrap this, then?"
"Just for a little longer? Like, a few centuries, maybe? Or until Dick grow up?"
"A few centuries it is, then." Jason said in mock seriousness. He released Tim just as the elevator reached their floor. "What do we do for dinner now?" he asked out loud as the elevator door opened.
"Jason, it's five p.m." Barbara scoffed.
"Supper, then? I'm hungry."
"Why didn't you bring something?" Dick wanted to know.
"I'm broke, Grayson." Jason deadpanned.
"You seriously gonna make Tim pay for your meal."
"Yes." Dick replied, straightfaced.
"Okay," Jason relented. "We were just discussing that you're actually like, twelve. What food d'you have in mind, Timmers? Since we have to feed the child that is Dick Grayson?"
Tim was about to say 'chicken and waffles', and swiftly changed his mind at Jason's glare. "Any good Pho around here?"
"Sure," Jason replied. "It's called the kitchen. And I mean that kitchen." he pointed to the penthouse's kitchen.
"You volunteering?" Dick smirked.
"You go shopping for some stuff, I'll have the broth and stuff ready in no time." Jason challenged.
"Done." Dick leaped out of the sofa he was sitting on and caught Tim by the hoodie. "you're coming with me. I don't know what to buy for a pho!"
"Pho tonight it is, lady and kids. See? He's more responsible than you are and actually think of healthy food that'll pass Alfred's food inspection." Jason snarked at Dick.
"I want ice cream, too!" Dick sing-song-ed.
"Twelve." Jason retorted, and Dick replied maturely by sticking out his tongue. "I take that back. Ten."
"Make sure to bring back some vegetables, Tim! Don't let him bully you to buying them premade fishballs thingy!" Barbara called out as Dick dragged Tim out.
"So," Dick asked as they entered his car, this time; not Jason's.
"So? Pho only needs like, beansprouts, coriander leaves, and maybe some lettuce..."
Dick laughed. "No, silly. How's you doing?"
"I'm doing great!" Tim grinned widely at Dick. "Danny and Ellie are happy with their mom. We've got Jason back. We've gotten him out of being accused of murder..."
Dick smiled softly at him, and said, "I mean you, Tim. How are you really doing? Pull everyone else out of the equation and tell me, how's Tim Drake doing?"
Tim blinked, and looked at Dick, seriously and solemnly. "I am doing great, Dick. I'm happy. Really. Everyone around me are happy and that made me happy. It feels great!" he assured Dick. And just as he closed his mouth, he realized that, yes, he was finally happy.
"Let it roll, Demetrius."
"Come and get me, Lysander."
Tim watched from the rafters as Dick and Jason bantered easily, both already in costume. Tonight will be Jason's 'farewell' from A Midsummer Night's Dream. For good. He would be Demetrius, and get his self-proclaimed "lifelong dream of fighting Dickiebird." Stephanie will continue to be Puck. The house was filled to the brims, tickets flying out the ticketmasters as soon as the show was announced a few weeks ago. Tonight will be Jason's final appearance in Midsummer, and his premiere return to the Wayne House's roster.
All on his 17th birthday.
And Tim will record them all in photographs, including the pre-curtain call bickering.
"Hey little bird, come down here for a sec." Jason suddenly called him. Tim obliged and swung himself down, landing right in front of Jason. "How about a good luck kiss?" Jason asked, wrapping his arms around Tim.
"You know that cavorting me could get you arrested, right?" Tim joked, only hesitating for a fraction of a second before pressing himself closer to Jason. It took the family all but three dates in two weeks to catch on. And Tim could still see Bruce's tender smile and Dick's unabashed squeal when he and Jason confirmed that they were going out. Oh, that, and a plethora of condoms that magically appeared in his bedroom drawers - and he suspected in Jason's too. Because... well, Tim still wasn't sure if it was Dick or Stephanie; or the conspiracy between the two who would always feign innocence whenever they were confronted.
Jason rolled his eyes. "You're two years younger, Timothy. Not twenty." he scowled.
"Okay then," Tim stood on tiptoe, pressing a kiss onto Jason's lips. Savoring the warmth, the slight taste of chocolate and mint, and Jason-ness. Until somebody coughed behind him.
"Get a room, children." Stephanie scowled. "Now come give me my good luck kiss, mascot!" she demanded, tugging Tim's shirt.
"Mascot?!?" Tim squawked indignantly. But he kissed Stephanie, anyway, way more chaste than his kiss for Jason.
"Oh, I agree. Stay small, Timbit." Harper chimed in and stole a kiss on Tim.
"Why do I get to be a mascot??" Tim whined. "Also, Harper, you're not getting on stage. Why are you kissing me??"
"Because we love you, squirt." Dick declared, adding, "The one true Robin Goodfellow of the House of Wayne." before settling on bear-hugging Tim.
"Good luck, guys." Tim finally managed, after the entire cast went past him. Except Jason. "Good luck," Tim told Jason, as the latter stood in front of him looking whimsical. "I'm definitely not gonna tell you to break anything." Tim grinned. Jason might still need a crutch when walking on stage; but the costume department worked around the clock to create a costume that would provide a crutch for Jason's legs, yet not looked out of place in the period costume.
"Mascot..." Jason mused, sidling closer to Tim again and placed his hands on either side of Tim's waist. "You're my mascot, birdie."
Tim pouted at him jokingly. "Fine," he said, standing on his tiptoe to hook his chin on Jason's shoulder as Jason swayed them both slightly.
"Wanna make it permanent?"
"In five to six years, maybe. Ask me again." Tim grinned, feeling the pitter-patter of his heart.
A flash suddenly sparked from their left, and Tim looked around just in time to see Barbara grinning impishly. "For posterity's sake." she said, waving her cellphone. "Alfred will want this framed."
Tim laughed, tightening his arms around Jason. There will be more photos and memories, he was sure. The bird photo, the little red robin that started to fix everything, has been framed in a human-sized frame in front of Jason's bed over the fireplace. "Just to remind me that I'm home," Jason had said. "maybe one day I'll replace that thing with like, a tiger or whatever's deemed masculine or a superhero or something. Right now, I just want it there."
Tim believed him. After all, it was the bird who had brought Jason home.
At the night's end, when Bruce called everyone on stage for an encore, somebody dragged Tim along. "Come on, Tim! Get on there!"
It took Tim a few seconds to realize that it was Cullen, who unceremoniously tossed him into Jason's arm just as Bruce called, "...and this family, the family of the Wayne and Kane House, thankd you all for coming and welcoming our family to entertain you. We could never make it without you!" he turned, glaring at Tim at the last word.
Tim hid his blushing face on Jason's chest, and felt the rumble of laughter. "he's right," Jason remarked. "Take a bow, Timmers!" he pushed Tim forward a little, in time for Bruce to remark, '...to introduce to you, the true Robin Goodfellow of our House: Tim Drake!'
Tim glared at the lights and silhouettes of people behind it for several long seconds until somebody grabbed his shoulder. "Bow!" Jason's voice insisted.
So Tim took a few bows, amidst the applause.
"Tim might not be right there on the stage, but he keeps the memories of our house alive and archived." Bruce explained. "...and starting tomorrow, we shall present to you some of the archives, with commentaries from those who were there--"
Oh, right. Tonight might be Jason's last night in 'Midsummer Night's'. But tomorrow, Tim's gallery would open, right there at the Wayne House's lobby, to display the photographs he had taken through the years. It was Jason's idea, and Bruce supported it thoroughly; and then promoted it to the point where there was no way Tim could get away from it.
And Tim knew, it was for him. So that he shall be known as Tim the photographer. Not Tim the poor not-actor child of actor-and-actress Jack and Janet Drake. Not Tim the replacement Puck. Just as Tim, the photographer. Memory-keeper.
Tim looked at Jason, still a little flabbergasted long after they all got off the stage. "Whaddya say we make more memories, birdie?" Jason said, handing him a bag.
Tim laughed. "This is your birthday! I'm supposed to be the one giving you a gift!"
"Consider that thing a belated birthday gift. I'm still gonna be paying for it through the next few gigs." Jason grinned. "Go on, open it!"
Tim grinned, reached into the bag and pulled out a yellow-pad-paper wrapped box. He rolled his eyes. "Really," he deadpanned.
"Stuff it. I can't find anyone who'll get me pretty papers to wrap it who won't tattle on me to you." Jason scowled. "Just tear through it!"
"I will, oh my gosh, patience!" Tim retorted, and decided to do just asked, tear through it - after failing to find the ending of the sellotape. He gasped once it was opened. "Oh my god! Jason!"
"Yeah, hi. I don't know if it's good or not. I just asked the guy at the store for the best there is and he gave me this. It's not the most expensive, but like, he said-- he said it's the best and all that... especially for motion and/or high activity and--" Jason spluttered.
"Jason. shut up! This is awesome!" Tim tore through the box of the high-end camera he had been saving up to buy. And then remembered something. "You owed somebody for this."
"Sure, Bruce. I'm paying it with my salary." Jason shrugged.
"Jason, you don't have to--"
"Oh no, I don't have to," Jason cut him off. "I just want to. That's one thing that'll worth my weight in gold in your hands." He paused suddenly, expression turned solemn. "It was your photo that brought my memory back. The gallery might be a mere colorful and fun pictures to see for everyone else. For me, it's... the literal thing that's worth all the gold in the world, right? I mean," he shrugged. "Yeah. Anyway. Everything started with your camera, right? I'd like it to end with your camera and retain your love of it. Hopefully, of me, too."
Tim smiled shyly. "That's really cheesy," he commented. "but profound."
"I'm made of profundity."
Tim snorted and laughed. "Cheesy McCheese with extra cheese on profundity. You're alright," he said.
"Yeah, you too, birdie." Jason ruffled his hair. "Now let's go to the mess hall. Alfred's gonna kill us if I'm late. I'm the birthday boy, after all!" Even after Jason refused a birthday party, Alfred still insisted on throwing a post-show celebration dinner for all of them. Emphasis on 'them' instead of Jason, and thus prevented Jason from bailing out entirely.
"Thank you," Tim said, a little belatedly as they walked side by side to the dining hall - the 'mess' hall.
"Timmy, just let me know whatever you need to keep you happy, yeah?"
"Anything that doesn't require the blood of innocent. Besides, aren't you a little too young for diamonds?"
Tim laughed. "Anything?"
"Yep, you've done so much for the lot of us. Let us - me, especially - help you stay happy."
Tim paused at the door of the dining hall, letting Jason walked in first and basked in the 'happy birthday' greetings. Everyone was there. There were new people - imports from the Kane House when they merged with Wayne House; including Kate Kane herself who was sitting next to Barbara. The two redheads - Kate with her bob-cut and Barbara with her long flowing locks - looked almost like sisters. Even Barbara's father, James Gordon, was there.
Otherwise, most were the people Tim has gotten to know for quite some time. In other occasions, the family would sit everywhere they want. Tonight, they were grouped at the head of the table, with two empty chairs for Jason and Tim placed side-by-side. All have started eating, but given Alfred's propensity for - at least - six-course meals, they weren't going to be finished soon.
Jason took a seat nearer to the head of the table, next to Bruce; and Tim took the next one. Dick and Barbara across them, next to each other.
Tim didn't want to cringe, but he must have - because Jason elbowed him lightly just when Bruce started tinkling his spoon against his wine glass. "Everyone, may I have your attention please!" he called out and stood up.
Jason groaned unabashedly. "I thought the speech part is over..."
"I'm a dramatic person. Bear with me." Bruce quipped. "Pardon me for interrupting your feast. But I thought it would be proper to make it official. Let this feast be the mark of the new Wayne and Kane House of Family Theater. May it bring happiness to those who came across it; and deter anyone thinking to cross it." There were choruses of 'amen', 'hear ye!' and the equivalent thereof. "Enjoy the meal!" Bruce closed and sat back down amidst the applause. "As for you two, young men..." he glared at Tim and Jason alternately.
"We in trouble, Scoob..." Tim squeaked jokingly.
"No you're not in trouble. Not now, at least - or not that I know of..." Bruce turned toward Alfred with one eyebrow cocked in question. Alfred's small smirk assured him. "Just... if either of you find any mischiefs that might be a long con, let me know, yeah? I might hire somebody to make a play out of it."
"Whaaa...??" Jason squawked. "Seriously??"
"Yes," Bruce assured him. "I have started the process - just an outline for now. It would be great if you can help me with some of the details. Not to capitalize on your misery, but..."
"Oh no, I'm not offended. My entire life in the past few years could be enough to be a PSA warning for anyone looking for all that glitters in Hollywood. I'm just... who'd be interested in that kind of cliché?"
"Sane people," Kate Kane replied with a small smirk. "And you're right, it could be a PSA. But it will be a start. I shall lead the script-writing department, and I would love some help, if neither of you all mind." she addressed the last comment to include Barbara and Dick.
"I'll do the proofreading part. When it comes to imagination, you might want to rely on these two--" Barbara pointed to Jason and Dick. "fact checks, him or me." she added, pointing to Tim. "Schematic or pattern check, him."
"Cool! So we get to tell the adventure - our adventure, with a lot of artistic liberty. Can we make the villain look like, really creepy? 'It' clown kind of creepy?" Jason wanted to know.
"We can do whatever we want," Bruce agreed. "You can be in drag if you want - because I can always rely on Barbara to assess the rating later."
Tim looked at Jason, the latter looking excited at the prospect and started suggesting medieval and/or early 18th century Americas as the background, and started bickering with Dick about the lack of youtube in either era which would "poke a hole on the plot so big your ego could drive through it,"
Tim looked up just in time to catch a soft smile on Alfred's commonly-stoic face. The old man caught his eyes, and smiled at him. Tim smiled back.
Tonight might be the end of A Midsummer Night's Dream; but for the Wayne and Kane House, tonight shall be the first step to the future.
Annnd... we're done with this AU! Or so I hope. *goes and steers muse away from this AU and make him concentrate on the other AUs he'd gotten me into*
As always, thank you for everyone who had left kudos, comments, and general encouragements for me to keep writing. Rest assured, I will only post long fics that are finished. Sooo... if anyone has ideas on how to convince my muse to stick with one AU until the finish line, come on and holler at me at my tumblr, chronicbatfictioner.tumblr.com.
Again, thank you for sticking with this to the end, guys! You all are truly appreciated!