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When Jason wakes up and wanders into the bathroom, the image reflected at him in the mirror shows the dye rapidly fading from his hair. He runs his fingers through the longer strands, sees the red peeking out at the tips and heaves a sigh.

It’s not his problem anymore. Trying to hide all these things about himself, now that he’s Red Hood he doesn’t have to follow Bruce’s rules and that’s more than half the reason he left in the first place. He’s got his own life now and for the most part no one bothers him about it, but this is – this is still in a whole other category.

The reddish natural color of his hair makes him think of his mother. Not overly pleasant memories but not completely awful either, mostly it makes him think of everything he’s done wrong and that night when Bruce almost didn’t save him in time.

He pushes those thoughts away, averts his gaze from the mirror and for the next couple weeks he ignores the reflection that stares back at him. His freckles peak out even more, dotting his tanned skin in the summer light and with his hair it’s natural color he almost feels like a whole new person.

The feeling doesn’t last long though. Once the charm has worn off and the uneasiness rises, the type he thought he’d buried deep within himself, Jason finds himself scrambling for the keys to his bike.

An hour later he’s back in his apartment and dumping the contents of a plastic bag out onto the counter. Everything he needs to dye his hair back to the dark black that everyone is so fixated on. He looks at the box of dye and feels a bit of his resolve crumble.

It’d be the easy thing, a routine he’s done a million times, but somehow a piece of him isn’t ready to quite go back yet. The reflection in the mirror still makes him oddly uncomfortable, but his Red Hood uniform isn’t as exposed as when he was Robin, the helmet covering his change of hair color.

After debating with himself for so long he gives up, tosses the box of dye in one of his bathroom cabinets and completely forgets about it for the next month.

In a shocking turn of events he does get more comfortable with the color, even finds it within himself to send a picture to Roy and the stream of supportive messages he gets back are a given. Roy’s good people.

Of course, it’s a bit alarming that when his best friend messages how he should come to Star City, so they can paint the town red the pun probably fully intended, Jason doesn’t jump at the chance, not even reluctantly, just gives a useless excuse and tells Roy maybe next time.

There’s not going to be a next time for a while though, not until Jason stops harboring a silly crush on just about the last person anyone would expect him to be into. Instead he goes out on patrol late into the early hours of the morning and buries those feelings so deep he almost doesn’t have to think too much about them. Almost.

 

 

 

 

 

 

He’s sitting on the ledge of a high building, feet kicking beneath him, the wind ruffling the collar of his jacket. Jason’s got a routine at this point. When he was Robin, it was impossible to take a break and enjoy the night, but it’s just him out here doing his thing. The small breaks in patrol that he takes routinely each night, give him some peace and quiet among all the chaos and well, if he’s also taking a break for the sake of meeting someone well – no one has to know all the details. He’s going to enjoy it regardless.

Even Oracle leaves him be for a while – not that he minds the quiet reassurance of Babs voice in his ear telling him to cool his jets and take a right, watching out for him and having his back like Jason only trusts a few people to do – it’s an act of kindness to leave Jason to his thoughts. She’s his favorite, as he’s told her many times only to be faced with a quiet chuckle, “I know.”

Despite everything, Jason will always see Barbara as the tough chick who was Batgirl before it was cool. Hell, she made all of them cool and now she was keeping them alive too.

When a shadowy figure drops down next to him, light as air, Jason tamps down the quick spike of excitement, but it’s dashed almost just as suddenly when he looks up and is met with a black and blue color scheme and a knowing smile.

“Oh, it’s just you.”

He can almost see the glimmer of a joke behind Dick’s masked eyes, “Were you expecting someone else?”

The question is as redundant as they come, of-fucking-course Jason is waiting for someone. That’s why, even though he doesn’t admit it to Babs, he always manages to find time each night on patrol to sit on this specific ledge and wait for exactly thirty minutes.

As much as Dick likes to play the clueless pretty-boy (and as much as he is most days) Jason knows this time there’s a small tease in his words, waiting for the satisfaction of being right. As far as older brothers go, sometimes Jason really wishes he could trade this one in. But the hero worship still lingers, and he heaves a crackly sigh through the comms in his helmet.

“Why’re you here, man?”

“Just checking in on you, Oracle said I might be able to find you here.” Dick isn’t at all subtle about prying, even less about barging in where he clearly isn’t wanted, he settles himself easily down next to Jason, “Said something about you using this time for reflection and peace.”

“And you figured that was an open invitation to barge in on my “me” time, how kind of you.”

Dick bumps against his shoulder, “You know I worry."

He knows. Sometimes he thinks all Barbara and Dick are good at is worrying over him, especially since he moved out, since he became the Hood, and especially after the replacement was picked. For being raised by the worlds greatest detective, Jason sometimes thinks that Dick still flies by gut intuition more than by any reasonable clues. Which is even more annoying considering his gut instincts are almost always right.

“C’mon little wing, you know you can talk to me about…it.”

Shit.

He knows.

It is nothing, absolutely nothing, now leave me alone. Don’t you have some acrobat flips and puns to recite over on that building far away from me. I’m sure there’s a robbery in progress somewhere.”

There’s a small stretch of silence before Dick slings an arm over his shoulder, “You know there’s nothing wrong with wanting to be happy, right? You’ve been spending so much time together, training and going on patrol, it makes sense. Roy even told me –”

“Why am I everyone’s favorite gossip? Next you’re going to tell me you’ve all placed bets on my love life or something.” Jason says, because he’s good at deflecting.

“It wouldn’t be much of a bet when we all know what’s going to happen.” Dick sing-songs, “It just – listen, all I’m saying is that maybe you have to take a chance. I know it took me years to get my shit together, but I took that risk, and I know how much of a risk it is, and now I’m so much better for it. You can’t blame me for wanting the same thing for you.”

Jason doesn’t have the heart to tell Dick that not everyone is like him and Barbara, a power couple is he ever saw one, their story is nowhere close to his own situation.

“It’s not like that for me, for us.” He says weakly, glad the comms still pick up his voice despite the quiet of his words.

Dick looks at him for a long moment, “I wouldn’t be so sure, he might surprise you.”

Jason isn’t really surprised by much these days, but when it comes to Tim; that’s a different story altogether. Still, he does his best to ignore the spark of hope the words give him, a hope he knows he shouldn’t harbor. 

Dick rises gracefully, hands on his hips, looking out into the chaos that is Gotham, an endless sea of crime but their home nonetheless, “Well, it’s about time I get back to it, crime isn’t going to stop itself!”

Jason rolls his eyes, he knows Dick can tell he is even with the helmet on. He’s just about to jump off the ledge when he turns back around, “By the way, Red Robin is staying late to train Basil, not that you’re waiting for him or anything, just thought you should know.”

He can’t argue that he’s not disappointed, but…well, he is.

“Catch you later, little wing.” Dick calls, before backflipping himself over the side of the building.

Jason shakes his head, “Show off.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By the time Jason makes it back to his apartment the first rays of sun are starting to poke up along the horizon. He dumps his helmet on the armchair in his living room and slowly begins striping out of his uniform. After a long shower to wash away the filth of the night and ease the soreness in his body, Jason throws on a shirt and a pair of boxers and starts rummaging around in the fridge for something at least half-way edible.

He finds a Tupperware container of pasta – the leftovers from dinner at the manor three days ago that Dick had shoved into his hands before Jason left – he doesn’t even bother warming it up, just finds a fork and pops the lid.

Dick’s words continue to bother him though, to the point that he can’t just keep having a conversation with himself, so he dials up the one person he knows will at least listen to him bitch.

Roy answers on the fourth ring, sleep weighing down his voice and slurring his words, “D’ya know what time it is? Man, you better be dying.”

“Dick is an ass, he just confronted me about my feelings. He thinks I’m interested in Tim.” Jason stresses, stabbing at the chilled pasta in its container.

He hears the rustling of sheets and the slow yawn Roy lets out, “Firstly, Dick is uh – kind of a dick sometimes? Secondly, are you seriously trying to tell me you aren’t interested in Tim, you have heart eyes every time he’s around, not really subtle dude.”

“That’s – that’s not the point, Roy, you’re supposed to be on my side.”

“Sorry, Jaybird, don’t remember signing a contract like that, you’re confusing me with Wally who, by the way, is a huge pushover. I’m with Dickie this time.”

Jason scowls at the pasta speared at the end of his fork, debating dropping the phone pressed against his ear down the garbage disposal. But he knows better, Wayne Tech doesn’t damage that easily.

“Face it Jay,” Roy continues, “you’re not as good at hiding your emotions as you think you are, and I think you’re mad that someone called you out on it, because if Dick knows then that means there’s a good chance our dear old Timmy knows too.”

“You’re making way too much sense for it being six o’clock in the morning.”

“What can I say, being with Jade makes me smarter.” A pause, “don’t ever tell her I said that though.”

“I just don’t get how the two of you haven’t killed each other yet.”

“She really does try some days.” Roy sighs.

There’s a dreamy note to his voice that makes Jason a little concerned. He can’t help but think about Oliver and Dinah’s dynamic, even Barbara and Dick’s, “Am I the only one who doesn’t latch onto the first person that can kick their ass?”

Hey, don’t shame us, you and I both know you were instantly heart eyes for Drake once that scrawny little string bean flipped you over his shoulder and landed you on your ass two months ago during training.” Roy counters, making Jason regret sharing so much with him.

“This is an abuse of best friend privileges.”

“Yeah well, next time don’t wake me up if you don’t want the truth.” Roy huffs, fixing himself a cup of coffee on the other side of the line, Jason feels at least a little bad for waking him up, “All I’m saying is, just because you’re not doing the same kind of work anymore, just ‘cause you think you’re so different from them. Doesn’t mean Tim sees you like that. I know you Jay, and the guy I know can stare death in the face, don’t tell me you’re afraid of facing your own feelings.”

He is though. He’s afraid of all the things that he sees when he looks in the mirror, every day he looks less and less like Robin, he feels less like that kid he was before. Even after narrowly escaping death at the hands of the Joker, his own worst enemy is still himself.

“Have you been practicing that speech or what?”  

“Ha-ha. You’re an ass. Just listen to me for once, what’s the worst that can happen?”

A lot. Jason wants to say but holds his tongue. He’s already gotten as much advice as he can out of Roy and disturbed his morning too.

“Thanks for the advice, Roytoy, I’ll catch you later.”

“Good luck, Jaybird.”

After the receiver clicks on the other side, Jason drops his phone back on the counter, relaxing against it, staring at the half-eaten container of pasta and feeling completely disinterested in eating the rest. It’s still not as easy as everyone else assumes it is, maybe because they don’t have all the facts. Something that Jason is burdened with unfortunately.

Two weeks ago, dropping into the manor unannounced – as he usually does even with Alfred protesting that he should use the door like a normal person – by sneaking in through a half open window, he discovered something crucial.

Maybe it wasn’t the most morally upright thing to do, snooping around Tim’s room, but honestly, you’d think someone who lives with the greatest detective would do a better job of hiding things he doesn’t want found.

On his desk, buried under a stack of books, was a thick envelope addressed to Timothy Jackson Drake with the emblem of Ivy University on the front like a beacon. The package might as well have been glowing and screaming read me read me because not even five minutes later Jason had read through the entire acceptance letter.

The genius grant, something that wasn’t just given out to anyone, maybe three people a year received it and now Tim was a recipient as well. And Jason had seen it for what it was, a one-way ticket out of Gotham and out of their life. 

If he was going to reject the offer Tim wouldn’t have hidden it in such a hasty lazy manner. Just that alone was enough of a tell, that Tim even believed the acceptance offer was something to hide away and shove under the rest of his problems to be dealt with at another time.

But that time was coming closer and closer, regardless of how heavily Tim threw himself into this new team of his. Their problems were clear enough as well, and Jason had to keep his mouth shut just in the hopes of maintaining the little form of peace he had now – clutching it with two hands and refusing to let go – but the more he thinks of the time he’s spent with the other Robin, his previous replacement, the clearer it is that this time he cherishes is slipping away and for once Jason is powerless to stop it.

Because he wants the best for Tim, even if that means saying goodbye in the end, and that right there is the root of all his problems. Sure the fear of being rejected is in there somewhere, but there’s a much more real and scary possibility that Tim is going to say goodbye to this lifestyle and Jason – who only has ties to Tim through the least conventional means – would just be a reminder of everything he doesn’t want.

It makes his stomach hurt and his heart curl up defensively in his chest, as though he could will his feelings to go away and protect himself from any more pain. He knows it’s a little too late for that though.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Three days later and Jason isn’t alone on that ledge, Tim swoops down to join him and only once he’s sure it’s just the two of them does he let his guard down.

“You look like you’re thinking, that’s never good.” Tim jokes, crossing his legs as he sits quietly beside Jason, the space between them nonexistent in the most comforting of ways.

It’s Tim who always chooses to leave the space minimal, their shoulders knocking together with each movement, and Jason thinks I’m really gonna miss this even as he smiles beneath the weight of the hood. Only Tim knows just how to read him, whether he’s got the helmet on or not, and for some reason it makes him feel special. Like Tim has stored away these details about him and deemed them useful enough to remember.

“Mm, it’s really not.”

“Working a case?”

“You could say that,” If cases dealing with the heart counted.

Tim nods his head, masked eyes looking into the distance and his hair ruffling in the wind, Jason would give anything to reach over and just touch him, just feel that he’s real.

“Me too.” Tim offers, leading the conversation and giving Jason the chance to get out of his own head and just listen for once, “well, you know how it is, it’s never just a case. Kate has the team working harder than ever, and they’re pissed –”

They’re on a secure line thanks to Oracle and it’s a comfort to be able to hear everyone’s names, not just their alias, because sometimes Jason feels like they all disappear behind the mask. They aren’t themselves that way, just like he’s not Jason when he’s the Hood. Sometimes he thinks even once he’s taken it off and showered off the blood he’s still not himself, but Tim has a way of reminding him that they’re all still human. All of them.

“– and Steph, she’s getting real close to punching me in the face.” Tim carries on and Jason snorts out a laugh at the mental picture.

The lights in buildings burn bright and cars honk bellow them, the sound traveling all the way through the air, Tim’s voice grows quieter then, more serious, “B says the team is Kate’s, but that – that he’s getting me ready for my own team one day. Maybe even the Justice League but I – I don’t know Jay.”

His mind flashes to the image of that letter from Ivy University.

He breathes a heavy sigh, the tension easing out of his shoulders as he does so, this is just something he’s gotta do. Jason unclasps the helmet, sets it at his side and runs a hand through his damp slightly sweaty hair, and looks at Tim with nothing between them so he doesn’t have to read too much into his words.

“You want something different for yourself and you know that’s okay right? No one’s asking you to give your life up.” Some of them just didn’t have a choice, or liked to think they didn’t, but Tim; the absolute goodness in him is overwhelming. “Maybe it’s time for a fresh start away from it all.”

Even though he knows it’s the right thing to do, it hurts to say each word, to push Tim out rather than ask him not to leave. Jason already knows one foot is damn near out the door and this is…this is the final push.

“A fresh start away from it all?” Tim looks so far away for a moment, before his eyes are on Jason, “I don’t know – sounds like you’re trying to get rid of me.”

“Jesus Tim,” Jason huffs, “it’s the exact opposite. But you have a chance to leave this all behind, why not take it?”

Tim looks at him then, “I take it you found the acceptance letter.”

His voice isn’t accusing and Jason shrugs, “Didn’t do such a good job hiding it, how was I not supposed to read it.”

“You’re saying it’s my fault?”

“Exactly,” Jason says, a lazy grin stretching across his face that makes Tim’s smile appear too, “you know I’m nosy, it’s one of my most charming qualities.”

“Is that what you’re calling it?” Tim teases, “I’d say it’s your least.”

“So, you admit that I do have charming qualities?”

“You are the actual worst,” Tim says between his laughter, which Jason doesn’t get to hear often, before he’s sobering, and his voice goes all funny – all syrupy sweet and sincere in a way that makes Jason think he’s dreaming – saying, “I think you have a lot of good qualities Jay, more than you think.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah.”

He wants to pry more, ask for an alphabetized list maybe, but there are more pressing matters.

“So,” Jason says after a beat, “are you going to go?”

Tim isn’t the most forthcoming with feelings, Jason has seen him dodge questions and personal inquiries like a pro, but somehow even if it takes a little bit of time, he knows Tim will give him a real answer. He just has to wait a little.

The waiting this time isn’t too long since Tim has probably been thinking about this very answer ever since he applied.

“I am.”

The answer shouldn’t bother him, he should be happy really – and a part of him is – but there’s a small piece of him that regrets having that firm confirmation.

“Good, right, you deserve it. A fresh start.” Jason says, hoping that Tim can’t hear the sadness lingering in his voice, feeling utterly and completely exposed without his helmet on. But he doesn’t get much time to feel like he’s mourning, when Tim nudges him a bit, forcing the other to look over at him. Even for two people wearing masks, it’s easy for them to read each other.

“Jason –” Tim’s voice sounds so gentle that it gives Jason hope for what’s to come, but in typical fashion that’s when his comm pings.

Jason listens as Tim’s voice shifts into something less playful as he answers his comm, his ‘all business, no pleasure’ voice, as he listens intently to whatever Babs is saying on the other end, something Jason isn’t a part of.

“I’m on my way.” Tim says before signing off, he looks at Jason and he knows there isn’t enough time to say the rest of what he really wants to, so he doesn’t, “we’ll finish this next time okay?”

Jason nods, after all he’s done his waiting and a little more won’t kill him.

He watches as Tim pauses before he jumps into the night, looking back at Jason with a smile that is so blinding it catches him by surprise, “Oh, by the way, the new hair suits you Jay.”

And with that he’s gone, leaving Jason with a maddening blush and a small smile.

When Jason gets home that night he gets rid of the box of black dye in the back of his bathroom cabinet and spends the rest of the night telling himself that the next time he sees Tim they’ll figure all this out and he’ll finally be able to act on his feelings.  

Next time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alright, so next time doesn’t go exactly how any of them could have planned.

Jason is sat in a chair at Tim’s bedside, flipping through a magazine, a soft groan from Tim has him looking over into those lovely blue eyes. Normally he’d be thinking something cheesy – like how Tim’s eyes are so soft and clear that he can get lost looking in them sometimes – but the close call of almost losing Tim well that, that shifts things into perspective.

“You know,” he drawls, watching Tim become slightly more coherent as he stares up at the ceiling, shifting in bed and hissing at the pain the movement elicits, “you shouldn’t move around so much.”

Tim’s eyes flicker to him, looking surprised to see him maybe or worried that Jason’s not actually there at all, the doctor has him on the good kind of drugs and Jason isn’t completely sure that Tim’s aware enough of his surroundings yet – he’s been waking up at odd times for the last two days, still completely lucid and only ever fading back into sleep, but this time he looks more aware – so Jason gives him time to adjust.

In that time all the things he was mad about and wanted to yell at Tim for – because how could he be so selfless when it was something like this, why did he have to be the one to step up, why didn’t he think of what could have happened if he had slightly miscalculated – slipped out of his mind.

“Is that all?” Tim asks when Jason doesn’t say anything more, “you’re not going to yell at me?”

“Why would I yell, you made the call that we’re all prepared to make.”

“But you’re mad it had to be me to make it this time.” Tim ventures, hitting the nail on the head.

Jason feels like his throat is closing, letting emotions take him over like he usually doesn’t allow, “I’m mad because you could have died” – like I almost did, and no one should have to go through that – “and I never told you – I never told you a lot of things Timmy, and I wasn’t there for you.”

Three months ago, not too long after their talk, Jason and the Outlaws had found themselves in space hiding from bounty hunters and overall making a mess of shit like they’re known for by now. He’d assumed that Tim would be enjoying his last months of patrol and would tell the team about his acceptance into Ivy University and that when Jason came back things between them could finally be figured out.

Everything had been going fine, Tim would call him sometimes and Jason would express a certain kind of dismay at being away from everyone and trapped with Roy and Kory for extended amounts of time, and for the most part the world kept turning.

But less than a week ago Jason had gotten a distressed call from Dick before the transmission had cut out only to be replaced with Tim’s voice.

He had sounded so sure of himself, probably even confident to someone else, but Jason could hear the small twinge of worry creeping along his words.

If I make it out of this, Tim had said, I never got to tell you, but that fresh start we were talking about? It doesn’t have to be just mine, there’s room for you Jay, always room for you.

He would have really liked Tim not to be out there about to face down killbots, but life wasn’t perfect and as sickening as the thought was, he didn’t want to regret these last words. So, he’d offered a pained well, if that’s a formal invite I’d be an idiot not to take it, right?

And Tim’s laugh on the end of the line, god he wanted to savor it, like it was the last time he might ever hear it. The panic seized him so deep, like a knife was being twisted right through his heart as he fought tears and stared out into the void of space too far away to even dream of helping.

Words were all he could offer then.

“You’re here now.” Tim says, an easy smile spreading across his face as he watches Jason fix him a glass of water, sitting up in bed and taking the glass despite the ache in most of his movements. “We’ve got time.”

It almost feels too good to be true, to see Tim awake and recovering. Jason had come here straight away as soon as he’d gotten back to Earth and he’s still just a little overwhelmed, still on the verge of feeling too much every time that Tim looks at him.  

He looks just about as happy as Jason would assume someone who survived a near death experience would look, and he was sure it had something to do with the fact that Tim had woken up in the manor with minimal fuss and for now the only person he had to deal with was Jason and probably Dr. Thompkins whenever she saw fit to check on him again.

“How can you be so relaxed at a time like this?” Jason wonders, because right now he’s more of a wreck than he’s ever been before.

“It beats the alternative, I thought for sure I was dead.” Tim says, straight faced, not pulling his words until he sees the way they make Jason tense, the way he flinches at the word dead which he never wants to hear in association with Tim, not ever. “…sorry, I didn’t mean it to sound that way.”

Jason nodded, pushed past that uncomfortable little feeling that rose up, the feeling of almost losing someone he cared far too much about.

“So, what now?”

“Now?” Tim parrots, a sigh escaping his lips, “I think you owe me a date, Todd.”

Jason had to tear his eyes away from the floor at that, looking instead into Tim’s clear blue eyes shining under the dull light of the fading sun, and that little half smile that was on his face, jeez it did things to him. Tim looked at him like he was promising the world and Jason just had to believe him.

“That can be arranged.” Jason agrees, “Is that what you’ve been thinking about for the last couple months?”

“Just in my free time.” Tim says, but it’s useless to lie.

Jason knows how meticulous the other is and how much time and effort Tim tended to put into things, even forgetting to sleep in favor of pushing himself even more. So, he knows without a doubt that this wasn’t just some idle thought in Tim’s head, this was something else entirely.

“Anything else you’ve been thinking about in your free time?”

It’s not difficult to pull the information out of Tim, more so it’s just tough to sit here wondering if everything can really go back to how they were before, “Just that the drive from Gotham to Ivy Town is about four hours give or take, though traffic would be less if you take your motorcycle.”

Jason’s smile widens, “You’ve really thought of everything haven’t you?”

Tim shrugs in a what can I say it’s what I’m good at kind of way, and Jason suspects that this really is a new beginning for them both.

It takes a short time for Tim to recover, but before long he’s back in shape and the next big hurdle is there to cross.

Telling the family about his acceptance to Ivy University gets a completely different response then he would have expected previously, but then again near-death experiences tend to change up people’s priorities and although Bruce looks saddened at the loss, he understands it’s Tim’s choice to try something new.

Dick is probably the one who takes it the hardest and Jason tries his best not to laugh outright, but he does take a bunch of photos of the following days in which Dick clings to Tim everywhere he goes. Damian seems overall unaffected though he does avoid confrontations with Tim for the next couple weeks before he leaves.

Jason does end up taking Tim out on a date, they split a milkshake while Tim eats half of Jason’s fries, and they talk about a future they have a chance at.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s between Tim’s second year of University that he realizes his situation with Jason is only getting better, no signs of their relationship fizzling, and the distance between them just makes Tim long for their time together more.

Jason visits as often as he can, but it’s still not enough for Tim, so a week before fall quarter begins and he’s moving everything back into his own apartment – now that he doesn’t need to dorm like all Freshman are required to – he asks Jason to come with him.

Tim’s offer is well received, all Jason has to do is pack up the rest of his belongings from whatever safe house he’s using, and before he knows it they’re unpacking boxes in an apartment that’s too small for company but big enough for the both of them. By the end of the week, Tim finds Jason admiring the way their coffee mugs sit together on a shelf in the kitchen. Everything is as it should be.

They make breakfast together and fall asleep on the couch when they don’t make it to bed. Tim gets used to stealing Jason’s shirts and wearing his glasses instead of contacts. Some nights Jason stands out on the small balcony and watches the cars idly pass by on the street below, while Tim stands beside him, never once taking his eyes off Jason and the carefree way he smiles when he catches Tim watching him.

During the weekday, when Tim attends study sessions and the time slips away, Jason finds him in the library and drops off a venti coffee for him. He sticks around for a while and lets Tim introduce him, and when he leaves the girls in Tim’s group tell him how lucky he is. Tim knows this already though.

When a month passes – despite how adamant Jason was about maintaining his other life as Red Hood – Tim comes home one day to find Jason packing up his uniform, storing it in a box that he puts on the top shelf in their closet.

“I don’t need it anymore.” Is what Jason tells him, but Tim isn’t a genius for nothing.

He hears everything Jason doesn’t say.

A couple weeks later and Jason enrolls in online classes at the local community college. Tim insists he’s smart enough to make it into a University, but Jay’s been out of practice for a while and neither of them are in a rush. Tim gets a little more joy than necessary out of listening to Jason recite The Tempest one week and then move on to dissecting Pride and Prejudice the next.

Most of all, he’s unbelievably happy to be the one that gets to see Jason like this. Tim gets to come home to him and wake up in the morning next to Jay, and the novelty doesn’t wear off. Not even a little. It just becomes easier, settling into this life they’ve made together.

In fact, it should worry him, how comfortable they’re getting, because this was supposed to be a small break. Something he needed to do before coming back to the masked life. But the more time he spends with Jason – cooking dinner in their cramped kitchen and trading lazy early morning kisses – the harder it gets to imagine going back.

They’re both happier and in less danger now too, and he’s sure the others know now that it’s futile to hope for either of them to stalk the night again because whenever Dick calls to check up there isn’t a hopefulness in his voice anymore.

But that’s not a bad thing. Now when Tim picks up the phone at 12AM in the middle of reading some required book for class, with Jason’s head pillowed in his lap and soft snoring coming from him, he can hear the calmness of Dick’s voice. He knows they aren’t getting back into their costumes, at least not for a long while, and he’s made peace with that quicker than anyone else had. For the most part everyone is fine with it, so long as Tim and Jason remember it’s important to come back home occasionally.

Which they do of course.

During Tim’s winter break they go back to Gotham.

It’s a long road trip but Tim is done with rushing. It’s more important right now to enjoy the little things, so he and Jay pack up their car with everything they’ll need and all the junk food that Jason insists is bad for Tim, and they hit the road.

Tim’s phone is filled with pictures of Jason doing goofy things at tourist locations along the way and when they get hungry they stop into diners on the side of the road. Tim watches Jason drive, the sunglasses resting on the bridge of his nose and the wind blowing through his soft auburn hair, he catches sight of the freckles dotting across his cheeks and Tim just – god he just loves this man so much sometimes he doesn’t know what to do with himself.

When they reach the manor they have dinner with the rest of them – Steph chatters on about her latest drugs bust, Cass quietly nodding along, Harper bursts in with colorful vocabulary every now and then, while Damian watches the two of them like he’s not quite sure whether to shush them or walk away, and Dick won’t stop looking at Jason and Tim like he’s trying to make sure they’re still the same people – Bruce is oddly calm about the whole night, quiet as usual but with a resting smile on his face that takes years off him.

At night they flip a coin to see which of their old bedrooms they’ll end up in – Tim’s apparently – before they go to unpack in their room, Damian makes it known that he missed them (in his own way) while everyone else mirrors his sentiments, leaving Dick to pull them into one last near bone crushing hug each before turning in for the night.

In the morning Alfred makes up their favorite breakfast, pancakes with more syrup than is probably healthy for two guys who don’t get as much exercise as they used to, and Jason pours Bruce his morning mug of coffee while Dick watches on, fascinated at the normality. Tim watches, like always, and feels relaxed as he shoves a bite of pancake in his mouth.

Even being back home, Tim is relieved to find, neither he nor Jason miss the life all too much. After all, it’s not so much about putting on a costume and fighting crime that they had an attachment to, it was always the people, the bonds they formed that remained the most important. While they’re back in town they take time to do the rounds and check up on everyone.

They meet Wally and Kyle for lunch at some new place downtown where they split a basket of fries and Jason eats two and a half chili dogs while Wally nearly samples the entire menu. As far as double dates go, this is one to remember as Tim and Kyle get into a heavy debate about aliens while Jason and Wally realize just what kind of nerds they’re dating.

Tim thinks that in the undefinable potential of the universe there is undoubtedly a place in space and time where Star Trek is real, Kyle argues that – as a Green Lantern with more authority on aliens than a normal person – Star Trek is fiction and if Tim wants to see aliens he could take him to any planet of his choosing; though he can’t 100% guarantee his safe return, which is where Jason draws the line.

Wally makes an offhanded comment about Jason’s new hair color – something about redheads and their charm – and Tim is so proud to see that it doesn’t make Jason self-conscious, it just adds a smile to his face and as he rolls his eyes.

It was something they had to work with on the beginning, Jason’s tendencies to feel out of place or less than perfect, some days it was hard for him to believe he deserved everything that he had now, this wonderful life he was living, but Tim was fine re-assuring him occasionally, when those less than good thoughts popped up.

They were good for each other.

And they would continue to be for a very long time, Tim was sure of it.