Author's notes: Disturbing content.
September 12, 2004
Disclaimers: Not even close to mine.
Spoilers: Various old storylines in vague and AU-ized ways.
Summary: It's scary when it's simple, but that doesn't make the simple answers stop being right.
Ratings Note/Warnings: NC-17. Contains content some readers may find disturbing.
Author's Note: Fourth installment in The Angels You Need (formerly Spareverse) series. Starts a few weeks after the end of "Miss World," and won't make a lick of sense if you haven't read those first. More notes at the end.
Acknowledgments: To Mary, Jack, and LC for audiencing, encouragement, and many, many helpful suggestions.
The thing is -- the fucking scary thing is -- how simple it all really is, when you get right down to it.
Jason figures he's been around just long enough to know how fucked-up things are when they look simple, and worse, when they are.
Like this, like them, right now --
"No, I don't want a goddamned break!" Steph's on the floor, on her knees and her fist. If she was fine, she'd just be on her knees. He knows it, Tim knows it, she knows it.
But she stands up, and she only wobbles for a second, and her fists are up in a ready position just that fast.
Tim's still hesitating, looking for something to critique --
No, looking for a good reason to stop the spar before he does serious damage.
"Come on," she says, and her cheeks are flushed and her hair's a mess and Jason wonders if Tim would count "Batman wants to fuck Batgirl stupid" as a good reason.
And Tim flicks him a glance, which is as close as he'll come to asking for help. With this, anyway.
"Where are you injured?" He's careful to use something close-but-not-too-close to the Batman voice, and he watches them both hear it, feel it, and he remembers Bruce and the way he --
He focuses. Steph is glaring somewhere past Tim's shoulder, and then she's glaring at him. There's a twist to her mouth that the woman he'd thought was his mother, once upon a time, would call 'muley.'
He lowers his own chin a little and focuses harder, this time on looking serious. It's not difficult.
Finally, Steph breaks, blowing out a breath and tossing her ponytail back over her shoulder. One more good toss and the tie will fall right out. "My back teeth feel loose and I'm going to have some killer bruises on my ribs and my toes hurt, but I'm fine, okay?"
Ribs. Damn. "Let me see," he says, and moves closer, onto the mats.
"What, my teeth? I'll get a bridge -- ow --"
It's one of the things he's known how to do for a really long time, actually. Since before Bruce, and his Dad would come home flush from a good 'job' and hit the bars and the bars would, more often than not, hit back.
"Watch it," Steph says when he lifts her t-shirt to just beneath her bra, which means she knows exactly what he's doing and is really hoping to God he doesn't find anything cracked or broken.
She has a Dad, too.
Out of the corner of his eye, he can see Tim doing the statue thing. Not looking away from them or anything, but by no means looking at them. The fact that he hasn't actually done anything with Steph while Tim was around has at least as much to do with Tim knowing when to make himself scarce -- he's damned good at that -- as it does with him having any class.
And he already knows Steph's body well enough to know that much of the area over her right side feels wrong, like a fruit that's just a bit too ripe. But... not too wrong.
"Tim, ditch the boots. Steph, you're good. But only for another hour or so, and we've gotta tape you up after."
"I told you," she says, and her voice is all about being pissed and her eyes are all about being relieved.
Just as if Jason would actually bench her for anything short of abject-fucking-need. Which, really, just no.
He moves off the mats and heads back to his books. He's got a paper due on <u>Heart of Darkness</u> in two days, and he's read it -- twice -- he just has no fucking clue what it's about.
And he's not likely to, tonight, because...
Shit, it's simple. It's really damned simple, because he remembers when he spent every training session thinking Bruce was going to wake up and realize how insane it was to train the kid he picked up in a damned alley to be Robin, and because Bruce is dead.
Dick is dead, and Barbara and Jim Gordon are dead, just because of some damned stupid break-in gone wrong of all fucking things, and...
And he's Batman. Batman is always about one bad paper from flunking the hell out of English -- no matter how much help Tim is -- and Robin is a really intense kid who weighs about as much as he did when he was starving, and Batgirl...
Just hit the damned mats again.
Though not with her head, and not on her bad side.
Small, small favors.
And he doesn't know what he's going to do if and when one of the freaks busts out of Arkham, and Commissioner Essen would totally call their parents to yank them home -- if she could -- and Alfred --
They need help.
Which is why they're training Steph.
Correction -- which is why Tim didn't just scare her off the first time, and why Alfred had just asked if Miss Stephanie would require a room of her own.
Because it's not just his stupid idea, or even the fact that she's fucking hot as hell -- and can punch Tim hard enough to make the kid grunt when she can get through his blocks -- it's that it's all really, really fucking simple.
They need her.
And she's not even close to all they need.
Tim sits on the console beside him, flexing and stretching his fingers. Two of his knuckles crack, and Jason remembers how, when Bruce would stretch, there'd be this little symphony of creaks from all the joints he'd abused over the years.
Jason has his own symphony, now, and it's just going to get longer.
Tim's staring idly at the door leading into the showers, where Steph has been for about ten minutes.
Normally, she'd be out already -- she's pretty fast with that stuff for a girl -- but Jason doesn't think either of them have any illusions about just how good she's not feeling after that spar.
She'd said something about how her mom thinks she's running with gangs, and laughed in a way that was almost entirely real.
Jason is staring at <u>Heart of Darkness</u>. There are words, and they're in English, and the sentences aren't very long.
He's totally flunking English.
"I wonder what Bat -- Barbara did. Before," Tim says.
Jason only blinks a little. Tim has actually started talking to him about more than the work -- and he'd really like to know what brought that on, because he's sure as shit it wasn't him -- but usually not about the others.
"She was semi-retired by the time I came on, actually," and Tim nods impatiently. Somewhere in Tim's files, there's probably a notation about that. "When she did shower here, Bruce and I would just hang out like we are now. But that was pretty rare."
Tim nods again, and... well, Tim still isn't looking at him, but he's very clearly there, too.
"I always used to wonder what it was like for her to go back to her house like that. Dick said her Dad always worked long hours, though, so..."
There's a pause. Just a little one, but still kind of obvious, and then Tim says, "Were you close? To Barbara."
"Me? Not really. I didn't even meet her until I'd been Robin for a while, and then..." And then she was just there because Bruce was checking up on me, I think. Jason would kind of like the whole story about that, too.
And he's never going to get it.
"I think Dick was the only one really close to her," he says, finally.
He can pretty much see Tim filing that away in that way he has that's all about the fact that Alfred isn't, actually, the one who does the dusting in Dick's old room these days. Not all the time.
"I miss her anyway. She was... man. You should've seen her. I thought I had fun out there back in the day, but she had this grin, you know?"
"I've seen... pictures," Tim says.
"I found something in the files about a conversation she'd had with Bruce quite some time ago. About how they weren't using computers as much as they could. Bruce seemed to think she had a point."
Jason... blinks and maneuvers as best he can onto the new conversational track. "Okay? I mean, yeah. Our computers have always been the best, but I think I can see how Babs might think we could do more with them. She was really into that."
Tim looks at him, and looks at him, but all he says is "Like me?"
"Well... yeah. Kind of." In that way where he'd never actually thought 'giant freaky computer geek' when he'd looked at Babs, but... whatever. It was clearly there from what she could do.
And Jason thinks about saying... something else, or maybe just punching Tim in the arm, but in the end he can't really come up with anything at all. If he's doing this -- any of this -- remotely right, it's completely by chance.
Jason swallows back a sigh and looks at the damned book again.
"Steph told me she didn't mind if we showered with her."
Jason snickers. "You know she'd stop saying things like that if you'd just stop blushing."
"I'm working on it," Tim says.
He probably totally is.
The thing about the Batsignal is that it stopped being cool and exciting sometime around when he'd stopped being able to go to the big, cheap meat-warehouse places -- even though they always have the best bacon -- because they smelled too much like old blood and he had way too many memories about that.
Then, it was just about business, and about the way Commissioner Gordon never, ever asked him any specific questions about anything, because Gordon knew Dick -- and maybe even knew who Dick was -- and pretty much had to do everything short of lobotomizing himself in order to pretend that the Robin currently standing in front of him was actually the Robin who hadn't been Robin in, like, a year.
And was taller.
And just totally not him.
And, well, by the time it really hit him that he'd never see Jim Gordon again, either, he hadn't really had anything like the right kind of grief left over for it, and it's not like he'd ever be able to look at cops as anything but the Potentially Helpful Ally, But Mostly Enemy, but...
He'd had sympathy, and respect, and not just because Bruce did.
Hell, Bruce seemed to think freaking Leslie walked on water, and Jason had always had a few doubts about that, no matter how many times she'd helped.
No, Gordon had been a good man, and an important ally, and while he doesn't have anything personal against Essen -- he even remembers Bruce mentioning Jim mentioning her favorably at least once...
Once again, he's letting Tim do the talking. Because even though Tim's younger, smaller, and infinitely freakier, his Robin voice gets way less attitude from Essen than Jason's Batman voice.
If he has to hear one more thing about voices changing from that woman...
And it works. Essen just glares at him once before asking Tim pointed questions about his parents which Tim pointedly ignores, and then they get down to business. It's just a string of armed robberies with a couple of dead bodies and a lack of court-worthy footage of the perps, and Jason swallows back the bitterness and goes with the relief.
Because it's not like he's ever going to be remotely upset that the freaks are quiet and locked up, and it's also not like he has all that much more faith in them right now than Essen does -- he'd be perfectly happy to have another few months to use as on-the-job training for both himself and Robin.
And one day she's going to need them for more than just what the cops are too overloaded to handle, anyway.
The question is whether or not she'll own up to that before it's too late.
He skims the file over Tim's shoulder, but mostly just pays attention to Tim himself. And before turning the last page, Tim flexes his fist again. Pop-pop go his knuckles and then he hands it back, and then Jason gives Essen Batman's best blank look of "I'll get this done," and then they're moving, Tim following easily.
"I'm here," Tim says in his ear as they swing around an apartment building full of people who'll hopefully never realize Batman is sixteen until sometime after Jason is safely dead.
"How are you?"
"Your hand, Robin."
The funny thing about the communicators is that it's easier to hear the tiny, exasperated sigh than it would be if Tim were just next to him.
"Start using the staff with Batgirl," he says, and moves toward the convenience store where the perps had left bodies behind.
"It's too soon for that. You know that."
"Not all the time. Just breaks, to give your hand a rest."
Tim pauses, and lands behind him. "One spar out of five."
"Two," Jason says, and grabs Tim's wrist. He sees Tim's mouth move but the sharp exhale is only in his ear. Disconcerting, especially since he can't check the kid's pulse with them both in gauntlets.
After a second, Tim raises an eyebrow at him from behind his mask.
"Two," Jason repeats. "Because it's also too soon for more than just the basic hits, and it's way too soon for me to take over."
Tim stares at the ground, and Jason stares at the top of Tim's head while Tim breathes at him through the communicator. And says, "there isn't much more than the basic stuff."
A week ago, that would've made him want to beat both of their heads against this handy alley wall, because it'd only be merciful.
But Steph's getting better every day, and --
"I know. And I've got a plan."
Tim finally looks up. "Tell me."
"Heh. When it's more of a plan. Let's go do the we're-sympathetic-yet-give-us-answers-now thing."
Tim rubs his wrist when Jason lets go, then slips behind him. He hadn't thought he was holding on too hard, but he'll be careful anyway.
The last thing they need is to fuck themselves up.
And the thing about eye-witnesses is that they are, actually, useless more often than not in court -- it takes too long for cases to make it to trial, and the more trauma a witness has means the more opportunities for a defense lawyer to fuck him or her up -- but for things like this...
All he has to do is look serious and grim -- not hard with the bloodstains still visible under not enough fresh paint -- while trading questions with Tim.
Tim asks the hardballs, he asks the softballs. It's the way it always works, though it probably used to work better when Robin wasn't nearly as frightening as Batman. Tim loves that cape way more than is remotely healthy, and exactly as much as he would've loved it.
Three perps working the room, one driver. Black SUV, of the type favored by drug dealers and Dads who can't suck it up and buy a minivan. Ski-masks, guns.
They get the best description by far of the guns, which is interesting, but mostly useless -- they already knew the bad guys were using Glock 9 mms from the ballistic reports.
However, they also know that at least one of the perps has freckled wrists, and that another has surprisingly small feet for a man his size.
"As tall as Batman?" Tim asks, doing a credible impression of an actual teenager.
"Oh, no, much taller. Er. No offense."
"None taken," Jason manages to say with an entirely straight face, and wonders if he's too old for hormone shots.
The Batmobile meets them a comfortable three blocks southeast, and Tim hits the files.
"Have to be professionals. Experienced," he says, hunched over his laptop.
"In the system, yeah. Look for --"
"Freckles, yes," Tim says.
"Heh. And to think people get pissy about the changing racial balance in Gotham."
"Could be mixed heritage."
"Fuck. Christ, I hope not," he says, and steers them into a neighborhood where there'll almost certainly be people for them to hit.
"Hm. Not nearly as many of those in the system," Tim says, and the corner of his mouth is tilted up.
Jason snorts. "Affirmative Action is clearly failing and... man. I'm pretty sure we both need to be punched for having this conversation."
"Only for laughing at it," Tim says, and types something quickly.
Jason keeps an eye out for morally comforting gang members. Maybe a nice child molester.
It feels really, really good to lie on his back on the mats. So good that he's thinking seriously about getting some planks or something for under Bruce's mattress, which is not, actually, all that soft.
Mostly he's thinking about Steph, and the bruises up and down her chest, and her healing black eye, and her tight, wet pussy, wrapped around him and flexing.
Rhythmically, because there's nothing like getting a woman off a few times first to make her really --
Really focused about driving you crazy.
"Gonna come for me, Batman...?" She says 'Batman' like it's just another tease, which actually works way fucking better for him than when she -- or Tim -- says it seriously. Because -- because.
"What do you think?"
She grins and tosses her ponytail back over her shoulder. And squeezes hard before starting to honestly ride him.
"Christ, Steph --"
"Mmm. Yeah," and her mouth twists up like she's concentrating, and some part of Jason braces himself for whatever else she's going to do, but it's nothing.
She's thinking. About something, and he thinks --
He thinks he'll think about it sometime later, because she reaches behind herself and scratches her short nails over his balls --
"Oh fuck yeah, squeeze 'em, just --"
"Jason," she says, and it's more like a growl, and that just --
"God -- damn you feel good --"
He bucks up hard, hard enough to make her tits bounce, and -- "oh fuck, oh fuck --"
By the time he can breathe again, she's off and next to him, running her hand up and down between her breasts and staring up at the stalactites.
"Fuck, Steph," he says fervently, and Steph grins lazily before looking at him.
"So when do I start training with you, Jason?"
She never actually calls him 'Jay,' and while that's actually kind of soothing, it is always a surprise. With her, anyway.
Tim's going to call him 'Jay' sometime after the apocalypse.
He grins back at her and traces a finger lightly over her shiner. "Give Tim a matching one of those. Then we'll see."
"Hmph. He's fast."
"Yep. And tricky." He moves his finger down to the corner of her mouth. Most people wouldn't even be able to see the bruise she'd had there. "But you can be tricky, too," he says, and strokes over the edges of where the bruise used to be.
She smiles in kind of a weird way and catches his hand, squeezing it for a second before pushing it away.
Correction -- pushing it away in a way that makes it really obvious and important that she's not on top of him or playing with the rapidly grossifying condom on his dick or anything.
The warning bells in his head are muted, but they're also absolutely there.
"This isn't -- we're not going anywhere, right?"
She snorts at the look of his face. "That's not, like, pressure or anything. I don't think... well. We shouldn't be."
"It's funny how Batman can be Batman and still be such a boy," she says, and stands up, stretching in a really attractive -- and correct -- way before heading for her workout clothes.
Jason ditches the condom and wings it at the waste basket that had mysteriously appeared over by the steps in a way that makes him want to spend some time not thinking about what Alfred does and doesn't know.
He really had thought he was used to... that, from the guy, but just no.
"So... you wanna stop?"
"Yeah, maybe?" She shrugs and pulls her sweatpants on before turning back to face him, with a grin on her face. "I mean, it's not like I'd say no to another chance to rock the Batmobile's shocks at some point, but..." She nods toward where the Batgirl uniform Jason and Alfred had modified for her is waiting. "I kind of have other things to think about, you know?"
He... absolutely gets that. "I get that. And... heh. I wouldn't mind a little shock-rocking, either. You just... you know. Let me know."
Her grin gets even wider for a second, more... full of something. "I never thought I'd meet anyone like you."
"We're not so different," he says, bracing himself on his elbows.
"That's my point, Jason. The guys I know who aren't so different from me... well. I don't see you cruising my high school for other chicks like me, you know?"
"Any of 'em have your right cross?" It's only when she starts laughing as she tugs on her bra that he realizes that he's half-serious. Way past time for him to actually move the plan into second gear.
"-- other stuff. I mean, I kind of think I should be around Tim more."
Jason blinks and focuses. Way past time for him to sleep more than four hours a night, too. "What about Tim?"
She comes back and sits cross-legged in front of him. He's got a great view of her from between his knees and --
Focus, right. He focuses on looking curious. She just looks thoughtful for a while before saying,
"I figure I should get to know him a little better. I mean, he's the one who trains me, but I don't think I've ever even had a conversation with him."
He thinks about telling her how many months it took for him to have a conversation with the guy, but --
"Plus, I know we make him uncomfortable."
"Hunh? Has he said something, or --"
Steph backhands his knee. "Not even. I can't believe you haven't noticed -- wait, no, I forgot, giant boy. Anyway. There's a difference between 'Tim is being all serious and quiet because he thinks he has to be' and 'Tim is being all serious and quiet because...'" Another shrug.
Jason finishes sitting up and brushes a lock of sweaty hair off her forehead absently. "And then there's the fact that Tim just kind of is 'all serious and quiet.'"
"I guess... and anyway, there's also something else."
Jason rubs at the scars on his jaw. "You know, you don't actually have to convince me --"
"Hey, I'm supposed to be some kind of detective someday, right? You should encourage this stuff from me."
"Okay, okay." He puts his hands up. "What's the something else?"
"You. It's like... six kinds of obvious that there's someone you haven't gotten over," she says, and her smile is teasing. "So who is she?"
He needs better alarms. He's pretty sure he doesn't look like the bottom of his stomach just fell out of his ass -- because Steph is still smiling -- but that's about all he can manage.
"C'mon, tell me. I'll practice my nerve-strikes on her for you."
He can't help it, he laughs so hard he chokes. Because he can see it, in two different ways at once. Bruce training Steph into the freaking machine she could so clearly be, and Steph digging up that dead body which isn't even remotely Bruce and prodding at it until... until...
"Oh, like I can't just look for your freaking yearbook --"
Yearbook. Christ. He wipes his eyes. "She's not in the yearbook, Steph."
"Or see where you used to hang out --"
"She's Batman, Steph. Or she was." Suddenly, the image of Bruce in one of Steph's belly shirts is massive and overpowering, and he breathes to keep from choking. "He was."
"Or -- oh. I... oh." Her eyes are as wide as they were when she'd seen the Cave for the first time. And then she starts blinking. "Oh."
Jason tries on his own lazy grin and waits.
"Oh, man, and I was just all -- God, that was -- and I was -- crap!"
Jason snorts. "Does it make you uncomfortable?"
"It makes me freaking surprised. I never thought... well, I mean, my Dad used to make these really bad jokes, but --"
"I'd just like to state, for the record, that the short-shorts were totally Dick's fault."
"Dad always called them panties," she says, and her eyes are still really wide, but she's smirking.
"I could have Alfred put the high heels back on the Batgirl boots."
"Aw, fuck you," she says, and punches his shoulder.
They're still laughing and punching at each other when Tim pulls into the Cave on his bike. There really need to be more occasions when Batman can ride a motorcycle. Just --
"I could come back," Tim says, and his eyebrow is raised so far under the mask that it's not just obvious from a distance, but painful-looking.
Crap, he'd forgotten to put his clothes back on. "I --"
Steph stands up, brushing off the back of her sweats with her hands. "Nah, I was just leaving," she says, grabbing her backpack and slinging it over her shoulder. For a moment it looks like she's about to say something else to Tim, or maybe reach out, but in the end she just heads for the stairs. "Later, guys!"
"See you tomorrow," Tim says, and waits for the soft clunk of the clock closing before starting to strip. "I need a shower," he says to a spot somewhere over Jason's shoulder.
Uncomfortable? Jason shakes it off and stands, stretching. "Amazingly enough... heh. Meet you there, man."
He's actually mostly done by the time Tim joins him, even though he's washing off a relatively short patrol and, well, Steph.
Tim doesn't say anything, or look at him, just starts the shower. And it isn't all that strange, even now, but...
He punches Tim's shoulder lightly. "Hey, sorry about that, man. Totally spaced. But... heh. It's not like you're not used to seeing my naked ass."
Tim nods and just keeps scrubbing.
And... crap. "Hey." He just leaves his hand on Tim's shoulder this time. "You okay?"
Tim looks at Jason's hand for a long moment, and breathes, and then looks up to meet his eyes. "Yes."
"Okay, is that a 'yes, I'm fine,' or a 'no, but leave me the fuck alone?'"
The corner of Tim's mouth twitches. "Guess."
Jason squeezes Tim's shoulder. "Was it patrol?" He knows it wasn't patrol.
"Patrol was fine. Just some 'bangers." Another twitch. "I think I interrupted a 'rumble.'"
"You totally called it that, too, didn't you? With the air quotes and everything."
"Possibly," Tim says, and turns back to face the tile. He doesn't so much push Jason's hand off his shoulder as ignore its continued presence on his skin. And... crap.
"Steph thinks you're uncomfortable," he tries.
Tim tenses under his hand -- tenses fast -- and makes a very clear, deliberate effort to relax. Slow. "Does she."
"Yeah, well, now I do."
Tim gives him the most unreadable look Jason's ever actually seen, and says, "What you and Steph do with your own time is none of my business."
"Jesus, man." Jason gives Tim a little shove and turns to lean back against the tile. It's steamy enough in here that it's not uncomfortably cold against the scars on his back. "You know, you could have said something."
Tim finishes soaping himself up and reaches to twist the shower nozzle until it's past massage and well into what Jason used to think of as 'watery bludgeoning.' "I didn't see the point. I still don't."
"The point --!" Jason growls and bangs his head back against the wall. "The point is that we have to work together, man. Which means when you're uncomfortable, you fucking well talk to me."
"Noted," Tim says, and lifts his head to let the water pound the hell out of his face for a few moments before shifting aside just enough that he can open his eyes again and look at him. "Anything else?"
Batman never, never strangles his Robin, no matter how much he wants to. Batman never, never -- Jason breathes. "How 'bout telling me why you were uncomfortable, Tim?"
The expression on Tim's face briefly shifts to something pinched and... well, uncomfortable before shifting right back to blank. "It's not important," he says, and turns, and reaches for the shampoo.
Which is still close enough to Jason that he can snatch it out of Tim's hand before he gets a good grip. "Not good enough."
"Christ, you don't think I wanted to bring her in just to fuck her, do you? Tell me --"
"Of course not," Tim says, and looks honestly angry for a moment, even blinking under the force of the spray.
"Then what the fuck is it, Tim? Just talk to me."
Tim just looks at him, blinking like an actual kid instead of just a kid-shaped Robin, and then his eyes drift down to Jason's chest. And for a moment Jason thinks Tim's just avoiding his eyes again, but...
It's the right side of his chest, and, when he looks down, the welts Steph had left with her short nails blend almost perfectly with the flush from the shower.
Tim takes a hitching breath, and it's like slow-motion, like the kind of nightmare where everyone can move at normal speed except for you, because all the air around you has turned into syrup. He can see it happening, but he can't...
He has no fucking clue what he wants to do about it.
After about eight years, Tim's fingertips land -- lightly -- on his pec, and Tim swallows, and his hand spasms, and --
"It's." Tim swallows again, moves, turns the shower off, and heads for the door. "It's not important," he says, without turning around, and then he's gone.
And gone by the time Jason can remember how to breathe and, like, move, and get out of the shower.
The thing is, Jason's never actually met Huntress. Or, hell, seen her. Even for long enough to see if she looks more like a 'Helena Bertinelli' up close than she does in Bruce's file photos.
The file itself is as detailed as anything else, though.
Address current as of the last time Bruce had signed off on the profile -- about a month before Two-Face... before. Everything's right there, from the fact that she teaches at the same elementary school Steph used to go to -- though not while Steph was there --- to as much of her history as Bruce could pick up or figure out.
Including the part where she'd been trained by Asaro family assassins, which is, as far as Jason's concerned, the most important thing.
Bruce had used it as one of the reasons he didn't approve of her working in Gotham, and why "stronger measures may have to be found to discourage her," and if there's anything he never doubted Bruce about it's the training, but...
Bruce had been trained by all sorts of fucked-up people -- most of whom are now dead, and the rest Jason wouldn't go near without more layers of kevlar than are on all of his spare Batsuits -- and possibly heavy drugs.
The fact is, his training didn't stop until he was injured, and started right up again as soon as Bruce had gotten over himself and brought him back to Gotham. And not just reminders and Bruce-style PT, either. He was still learning new things.
The fact is, while it would be better to learn more from Bruce, or from someone whose skills Bruce had approved of, it's really just not possible -- unless they all try to take up the bow and arrow or something.
The only reason he knows dick about Green Arrow is that he'd come to the funerals and his beard was pretty much impossible to ignore. And there's the JLA connection for that, and... and, hell.
Tim isn't, actually, late.
Tim isn't even late for being as early as he usually is, and it hasn't even been twenty fucking hours and he wouldn't bail on this just because of... just because of this, and even though Jason's not actually worried about anything except for the paper which only made it to ten double-spaced pages because of judicious use of Courier font.
But he slips in the special not-quite-JLA communicator, anyway.
"I'm here, Batman. What can I do for you?"
And he's going to get used to being called 'Batman' by Superman pretty much never. "Well... are you busy?"
"I can be there --"
"No, no, there's no emergency. Promise. I just wanted to talk."
"Oh," Superman says, and it's pretty amazing how easy it is to hear the smile in just one syllable.
But then, it's also Superman. Jason smiles a little himself. "How are you?"
"I'm just fine, J -- Batman. Thanks for asking."
And a little more. "You know you can call me Jason, Superman. I mean, as long as you're not in the middle of a huge crowd of supervillains or something."
Superman laughs in his ear. "All right, Jason. And you'll start calling me Clark..."
"Oh... right. Clark. Sorry."
"It's all right. How is Robin? Tim. We didn't get the chance to talk after that nasty business in Haiti. How are you?"
Tim's apparently lusting for my ass, and still really damned freaky, actually. Jason snorts and rubs at his temples. "He's not actually talkative at the best of times, but he's all right. I'll send him your regards." Please don't ask about his parents, because they're giant fuckups and I'm not sure they deserved a Supersave. Jason sighs. "God, you have no idea how grateful --"
"Jason," Superman says, and there's a weight to the word. His name. "I was happy -- grateful -- that I could help. I... you know I'm here for you."
Jason closes his eyes. "Thank you."
"You're welcome. Now, how are you?"
"I... I'm juggling, really."
"Yeah, well." How in hell are you letting me actually do this? Be this? What are you thinking? "I'm thinking about recruiting Huntress, and I was wondering... well, I have Bruce's old file, but..."
"Hmm. Well, I only know her through that file, really. Bruce tended to keep the League updated about... well."
Jason smiles ruefully. "People he thought might be a problem someday?"
Superman sighs. "Well, it might be helpful to remember that I'm not actually sure who -- save for, perhaps, you, Dick, Barbara, and Alfred -- Bruce didn't think might be a problem someday." A brief, but surprisingly humorless laugh. "Including me."
"He trusted you."
"Much of the time."
There's something of a pause, and for a moment Jason wonders what Superman is actually doing. If he's flying, or listening out for meteors thinking about crashing to earth, or doing Clark Kent things like...
Well, Jason's not actually sure what 'Clark Kent things' are.
And then Superman clears his throat. "Are you thinking of making her... the new Batgirl?"
Jason blinks, because... wow. There isn't, actually, any reason for Superman to know about what he's doing. "Um... no. I'm hoping she can help Tim and I train the new Batgirl, among other things." Like helping us be useful. "Uh... you haven't met her. Yet. I think..."
'I think you'll like her,' is what he was going to say, and has to spend a lot of time trying to keep from beating his head against the desk, because, really, it's not like he needs them to date or anything.
"I think she's going to work out well."
"I trust your judgment," Superman says, and Jason shifts his focus to not screaming 'why' at the top of his lungs. "And, in any event, I don't believe Bruce ever doubted Huntress' skills."
"Because if he did, you never would've gotten the file."
"Exactly. And, well. She is a teacher, yes?"
Jason thinks about Helena turning out to be the sort of person who treats everyone like the eight year olds she teaches, and has to smile again.
Steph will beat her bloody if she tries.
"Yeah," he says, and turns around smiling when he hears Tim deliberately scuffing his feet on the floor.
And remembers and feels the smile freeze on his face, because Tim looks like he got pretty much no sleep. He hopes to God Tim realizes that's why Jason's face looks like whatever it looked like before he got some fucking control.
And then Tim nods at him and heads for his workout clothes.
"Jason? Is there anything wrong?"
Superman. God. He can start coping any fucking minute, now. "Oh, no, Tim just came in. I. I should go, actually."
"All right... it was good hearing from you, Jason -- I just wish I could've been more help."
"No, you really were, Clark. Thank you. Again."
"You're welcome," Superman says, and the smile is back in his voice. "Again."
Jason closes the connection, stands, and winces. He hadn't been exactly slacking in his yoga, but he also hasn't been doing nearly enough considering how fucking tense he absolutely knows he is.
And the patrols.
And the sleep. He probably wouldn't look that much better than Tim if he looked in a damned mirror.
He rolls his shoulder in the socket experimentally and tries not to think about crowbars and how nice they'd look buried in a green-haired head. Christ.
Back and forth, back and forth. It isn't bad -- he has whole new definitions for 'bad' -- but it's still --
"It's acting up," Tim says, and really, there aren't too many people who can move quieter than Tim when he puts his mind to it.
Not anymore, anyway. "Yeah. It'll be fine. I just need to..." And then he has to trail off, because a) Tim isn't touching him the way he normally would be, and b) Tim is standing there with his hands raised like...
Exactly like he's waiting for permission. Jason grits his teeth and focuses, and pastes what he hopes is an easy smile on his face, and says,
"Hey, go ahead, man. It's not like I'm going to say no."
Tim nods curtly and reaches up to prod lightly at his shoulder until he finds the muscles that are tensed up, and Jason remembers...
Remembers a lot. Three and a half years ago, too buzzed and too freaked-out to do much more than just stare at the Cave, and how that feeling had lasted a while into his training.
How one of the first things Bruce had started him on, physically, was hand strength and basic techniques for therapeutic massage.
And how it had just made him assume
absolutely wrong things about Bruce... even though they were also sort of right. Just not that way.
"God, that's good."
"You taught me," Tim says.
"I taught you well."
He can see Tim's mouth twitching out of the corner of his eye and that has to be a good sign. "Listen --"
"You don't..." Tim's hands pause, but it's only because he's repositioning them. "It won't be a problem. I won't be a problem."
Jason frowns. "I never thought you -- ah, wait, scar --"
"I never thought you would be," Jason says, and drops into a crouch to make it easier for Tim to get at the upper curve of his trapezius.
"Until last night," Tim says, and doesn't actually stop working his shoulder.
"Yeah... wait. Fuck, no. Not even --"
"It's all right --"
"No, no, wait." He never used to get headaches. "God, a month ago you wanted me dead and rotting in the ground, Tim --"
"It was never about you," Tim says. "Stop tensing."
"And -- okay, I'm just going to skip that. What I'm saying -- yeah, I was fucking surprised, but I never thought you'd be a damned 'problem,' okay?"
When Tim pauses this time, it's a real one, his fingertips settled lightly and somehow managing not to be on any of Jason's scars. Finally, Tim says, "Okay," and starts working again.
Jason blows out a breath. "Jesus, I didn't have a clue. We've been showering together, dude."
"We don't have to."
"What? No. I mean -- Jesus, Tim --"
"You're tensing again," Tim says, and his voice is just a little too dry.
Jason reaches to cover the hand he can reach and looks up to see Tim looking... blank. Except for his eyes. "Some deeply, deeply twisted part of you is actually enjoying this conversation, isn't it?"
"God, you're a dick." Jason snorts and lets go. "Keep rubbing."
"Sir, yes, sir." Dry as a bone.
"Right. Look, nothing has to change. I don't have a problem if you don't have a problem, okay?"
And, no. Jason reaches up again and grabs Tim's wrist this time. "Okay?"
No gauntlets on either of them. Tim's wrist is as lean as the rest of him, and the skin is smooth and entirely free of scars. For now. And his pulse is racing.
"Okay," Tim says, and twists free. "What's up with Superman?"
"Ah, Superman. That was part of my plan. Well, sort of."
"You want us to liaise with the JLA?"
"Well, no. Though we could renew some contacts with the Titans." And that's actually a really fucking great idea, especially if it doesn't work out with Huntress. "No, actually. I was double-checking something in Bruce's files with him."
"I'm not good at suspense, Jason."
Jason snorts and rolls his head forward so Tim can work his neck more easily. "Huntress. Have you --"
"Helena Bertinelli. Family murdered in front of her, teacher focusing in Special Education, trained, at least in part, by Mafia assassins."
"Okay, you have. Great. We're going to recruit her. Thoughts?"
Tim digs his thumbs into the sides of Jason's neck. "Isn't she supposed to be... volatile?"
"According to Bruce, and, frankly? I think he thought Alfred was volatile sometimes."
Tim pauses, again. "He must have been very... controlled," he says, after a while.
"Most of the time."
The last time Jason had looked at his back in the mirror, there'd been a small, light scar near the base of his spine which had nothing to do with the Joker, or even with Robin. Just Bruce, and his teeth...
He shakes it off and stands. "Okay. I'm healthy enough to warm up so that I'll theoretically be healthy enough for patrol." He punches Tim's shoulder. "Good job."
"I try," Tim says with his mouth.
Jason doesn't even try to guess what he's saying with his eyes.
It's actually kind of soothing to see Tim pissed off, because it just doesn't happen often enough.
And while the reason he's pissed is only barely
comprehensible to Jason -- the fact that he hadn't
checked the Delaware state prison records right
away for freckled armed robbers who'd been
recently paroled, as opposed to the New Jersey,
New York, Pennsylvania, and freaking
Connecticut records -- the fact remains that he's pissed, and taking it out on their perps in fine, Robin-ly tradition.
And really, once Jason had taken Frankie O'Malley down -- whose feet really were very small for a man his size -- the rest of the crew (including Billy O'Malley, who appears to have more freckles than skin) were well within Tim's weight-class.
Jason leans back against the wall and watches Tim do things which will keep the Blackgate infirmaries hopping.
It's... yeah. Soothing.
He's had a little time to think about it -- all of it -- and he's pretty much convinced that the biggest reason he'd had for freaking in the shower really is the fact that that was... really fucking emotionally honest.
Closer to the boy who hadn't stopped scowling until Jason had taught him how to throw a punch -- that one in particular, actually, as another perp goes flying -- than to the one he'd been... well, since then.
Even when he'd showed the kid Dick's room he hadn't gotten all that much of a rise out of him. He didn't think it was possible to get a rise out of him, but... Tim's hand on him.
That was definitely a rise.
And it doesn't matter that it's probably more than just Tim being frustrated over not being perfect, that this... really fucking uncharacteristic display of brutality probably has as much to do with whatever Tim's feeling for him as it does with anything else, because...
Well, no. It absolutely does matter, because --
Because Tim actually threw this one close enough for him to punch.
"Thanks," Jason says, and Tim grunts at him and keeps working.
It matters, it all does, because as good as Tim is, as good a partner as he is...
It means more, feels more real that the kid is just a little fucked up over him, and, for once and fucking finally, not just because he's the (wrong) one who'd survived.
And that's probably fucked up beyond all human comprehension, but he still sleeps in Bruce's bed, and he hasn't let Alfred pack up any of Bruce's fucking clothes, and Steph hadn't had to be with them for a month before she could see it, and --
And he knows what he knows.
And he's the only one who can teach Tim anything at all about what it means to be a Robin, and so it's sweet -- fucking sweet -- to see Tim switch the staff to his left hand just to throw that last, perfect punch with his right.
Just because he can, and there's no one on the fucking planet who'd say that it was the right choice, or the efficient choice.
And he's right here to say -- to know -- that it's the better choice.
When Tim looks back over his shoulder at him, there's nothing on his face that isn't usually there -- which means there's nothing.
Except for other people's blood.
Jason looks around at the bodies and... yeah. Everyone's snoozing. He smirks. "Sure you don't want to kick any of them while they're down? I won't tell."
Tim narrows his eyes behind the mask and wipes the blood off his cheek with the back of his gauntlet. "Early night?"
"For you? Yeah."
Tim rears back like Jason's slapped him. Dammit.
"Not because -- shit. Zip-strip these guys while I call it in, all right? Batgirl called earlier and said she would be able to get in tonight. She's probably already waiting for you back at the Cave."
Tim just looks at him for another beat before nodding.
By the time Jason's crushed the life out of yet another pre-paid cell phone, Tim's done and heading for the door. Jason catches his wrist and squeezes, just a little.
Tim stops in his tracks but doesn't turn.
"One day you're going to be able to pretend to trust me for long enough that I'll be able to forget that you don't."
It takes another beat for Tim to nod at him again.
Bruce's file had said Huntress -- Bertinelli -- was 'independently wealthy,' but it hadn't mentioned that she owned at least half of this apartment block. It took about an hour of solid watching with the sense that something was wrong before he connected the persistent image of a pinball machine in his mind with the fact that the lights in all the apartments were switching on and off at intervals that weren't nearly irregular enough.
And, while one apartment full of fully-dressed mannequins could've been a coincidence -- this is Gotham -- the other three he'd checked before going back to staking out her apartment?
Not so much.
The big donations to various homeless shelters Tim had found when he'd pulled Bertinelli's tax records last night suddenly look a lot more like guilt than generosity, but he can't exactly fault her security.
Tim could probably come up with something better for the lighting situation, though.
Jason makes a mental note to have Tim check on what she's doing about the fact that the parking garage in there has to be filing reports to somebody, considering the city's security issues, too.
Mostly, he just watches. And...
Spends way too much fucking time thinking around Tim. If he was still Robin, he could let himself off the hook for this shit -- he has no illusions about how relaxing his life really just isn't -- but he's not.
He's Batman, and there's no room for him to let himself off the hook for anything. Not until he makes their team better, somehow, and not then, either.
And he sure as fuck knows how to watch an empty apartment and think at the same time, so...
("Lists are simplistic and limiting. However, they can make the difference between brooding and thought.")
Fact -- he doesn't want things to change between them. They'd just started actually working right, and if it's fucked-up that it had taken seeing Steph watching them with a really obvious sense of insecurity a few weeks back for him to get that, then it's also true.
Fact -- it doesn't matter. Things have already changed. Probably before he'd noticed that things were okay.
Fact -- he doesn't actually know how he feels about that, beyond even more terrified of fucking things up.
Fact -- he has to figure it out.
And that ate up two whole minutes and didn't get him anywhere, but it still... it feels better. Like meditation or something.
Like... he should be getting more sleep. He should...
Christ, does Tim resent Steph? The idea seems ridiculous and idiotic -- pettiness is inefficient -- but it also kind of doesn't. Tim's fully capable of resenting someone just for existing, and when he's in a bad mood...
Well, the police band said the bus had picked up their robber-murderers an hour ago. Jason's willing to bet they hadn't found all the teeth, assuming they'd bothered with looking.
And the thought makes his gut clench, because it doesn't matter that it's stupid, and that Tim knows they need Steph. The fact is, if Tim decided to do it, he could seriously damage her.
And neither he nor Steph would be able to say if it was a training accident or not.
And... great. Now he's seriously thinking about Robin crippling Batgirl because of the bizarre love triangle with Batman. Maybe -- just fucking maybe -- Tim isn't the only one with trust issues.
It's enough to make the sound of Tim's boots hitting the rooftop several feet behind him way too fucking ominous. Especially considering --
"She's sick. I sent her home."
Tim looks at him for a long moment, and Jason's pretty sure it's only the mask that makes the look blank as opposed to searching. "I'm not sure, beyond the vomiting."
"Dammit. Please let it be some twenty-four hour thing. We don't need this."
"No," Tim agrees, and settles next to him behind the balustrade. "She wasn't feverish and her pupils were clear," he offers.
"Hmm. Probably not food poisoning, then."
Another look, but Tim only says, "I asked. She's
still on the diet Alfred and I made for her,
deviating only if she can't get the right fresh
fruits and vegetables from her local
And that's... perfect and perfectly Tim. Jason smiles, ruefully. "You totally interrogated her while she yarked, didn't you?"
"I waited until she was done," Tim says stiffly. "And I thought you'd want to know."
"Believe me, I'm not..." Jason sighs and puts the binoculars down and looks at Tim. "I need you, okay? Because you're fucking perfect, and you did perfectly tonight. I need you."
And Tim doesn't say anything at all, and Jason wonders if he can just get Superman to get the Martian to hook them up with some kind of temporary psychic link so he can just beam this crap directly from his brain into Tim's own without having to count on his stupid fucking mouth, but...
Tim's blushing, hard enough to be visible without his night-vision lenses or even the infrared. He looks young and soft and... soft, and it doesn't matter how much Jason knows about how soft he isn't, and it doesn't matter that all he needs is, like, a bit more gymnastics training to pretty much be the best Robin ever, because... because.
And then Tim swallows with an audible click and looks away. "I wouldn't... I wouldn't ever... I know Batgirl is important. To the Mission. I know. I wouldn't, because --"
When Jason touches his shoulder, Tim gasps and shudders, so Jason squeezes. "I know."
And he does.
"I'll call Batgirl tomorrow if she doesn't call first."
Tim nods. "Huntress. Huntress is still out."
"Yeah. If you flip to the pb channel on your comm, you can hear about what some dark-haired female vigilante did to Scuvolla's Perfectly Legitimate Italian Eatery about forty-five minutes ago."
"Hm. What if she doesn't want to shift her focus away from organized crime?"
"I was thinking of trying to tempt her with the Tongs. Maybe those Russians moving in on the South Side."
"They are enticing," Tim says, and his voice is almost right again.
"I certainly hope so."
"You want us to have the assassin training."
Jason sighs and nods. "Dick barely got any, I barely got any, but Dick was Dick and I had Batman watching my ass."
"I wouldn't mind it," Tim says.
"Uh, huh. Just don't turn serial killer or anything on me. I don't need the stress."
Tim's smile is small, but, for once, it isn't really twitchy. "You are tense."
"Yep. Don't expend too much energy tonight. I'm going to need you to beat the hell out of my spine later."
"Okay," Tim says, and pulls out his own binoculars.
Jason snorts and reaches over to punch fists.
He doesn't, actually, need to call Steph at all. She's in the Cave before he's gotten back from school, which he finds out when he finds Tim doing his homework with Alfred in the kitchen, as opposed to down in the Cave with the bats.
But Tim doesn't actually tell him anything beyond "she seems... down," and so it isn't until he gets down to the Cave and finds her cross-legged on the mats with her never-used Batgirl suit folded in her lap --
It isn't until she says "So I'm pregnant," that he gets it.
That he starts getting it, because -- Jesus. Jesus. So very much not a twenty-four thing and... what the hell is he supposed to say, exactly?
He drops into a crouch in front of her, but she flinches away before he can touch her face.
She shakes her head and her knuckles are white against the black and green of the armor, and says, "It's not yours." And, "I need money," and "I'm getting... I'm. For the abortion."
Jason blows out a breath and clutches his hands together between his knees to keep from reaching out again before he's sure she actually wants him to.
"Please," she says, and she hasn't actually looked away from the suit.
"Are... are you sure it's what you want to do?"
Her hands start to shake.
Okay, that's a cue. He cups her shoulder lightly. "Steph, we can... I mean, you have options."
Her hands stop shaking, and Jason's just about to start breathing again when she looks up. And.
There are tears that haven't actually dropped yet, and her mouth is twisted into something... into.
"Tell me you don't think it's a good idea."
"Tell me -- fucking tell me you don't need me training even harder than I have been, because you don't, actually, need me out there yesterday. Tell me you and Tim aren't just marking time with the petty criminals and assholes like my Dad, that this was all your plan, that --" She bites her lip hard, but she doesn't look away from him.
She's waiting for him. It's not a fucking rhetorical... statement, or whatever, because she's waiting for him.
And the words are right there. She can carry to term, and Bruce gave so much money to various adoption agencies over the years... God, they could fucking pick who this kid's parents will be, and then watch them, and it would be...
It would be...
He looks down at her lap, helplessly, trying to see --
"I'm not showing, but I think. Three months. The doctor said -- and I was telling myself that it was just -- that I wasn't bleeding because my exercise routine had changed so much, and that the few times I was sick was just fucking stress, or maybe those -- those goddamned fucking vitamin shakes and they fucking suck --"
"I know --"
"You don't!" She twists away from his hand on her shoulder and stands, shaking and still holding the suit. "You -- you --"
"Steph, please, just let me --"
"You told me I had to want this, Jason. More than anything, more than I was... was afraid, and --" Her face crumples hard on itself for a terrifying second, long enough for Jason to stand, too.
But he doesn't try to reach out.
"So tell me you were lying. About everything you said and everything you didn't. Tell me now or just give me the fucking money and leave me alone."
He can't, because he wasn't. Because... because it's all so fucking simple he kind of wants to de-safe the practice guns and blow his fucking head off. Instead, he just looks at her, as steadily as she can, and says, "I'll go with you."
And there's a sound, from over by the stairs, and Tim says, "So will I. I. If you want me. To."
Jason watches Steph staring at Tim and has a brief and dangerously hysterical moment to wonder just what in God's name made Tim decide that now was a good time to attempt to bond.
And then he just focuses on praying to whoever might be listening that Steph doesn't ask that question, or Tim say anything else at all, possibly ever, and maybe it even works.
Steph offers her hand to Tim, and Tim actually takes it, and it's enough distraction for him to move in and hug her. She smells like Tim's shampoo ("It's nicer than mine.") and brand-new body armor, and, after a minute, she hugs him back.
"Fine," she says. "By all means let's go kill my baby as a family."
And Jason winces, but Steph starts crying and doesn't let go.
And when Jason looks over her shoulder, he can see that she's still holding Tim's hand. Tim covers it with his other while Jason watches, and stares at the floor.
It's a day ending in 'y,' so Batman and Robin are out on the streets.
It's Tuesday, and it's the nineteenth, and it's been about a week since Steph told him about... about.
And he can't just think around that, either. Especially since it's fucking Tuesday, and now Leslie has a reason to look at him the way she'd always looked at Bruce, only worse, because she'd set it all up for them and today they'd all just...
Steph has had an abortion. And he doesn't really -- he's never thought about it, and never had to, but Steph doesn't think about it as a medical procedure, Steph thinks she just killed her fucking baby, and since it was hers...
Maybe they did.
Mrs. Brown thinks Steph is at some girlfriend's house. Steph hasn't actually spoken to the girl in question since she started dating Steph's ex (was he the father? Does he even want to know?), but, while Mrs. Brown isn't quite as useless as a mother as Mrs. Drake --
He has to ask about Tim's parents. He hasn't gotten an update in -- too long.
Much too long. He has to --
They're on their way to Bertinelli's trying to catch her before she goes out tonight, because there isn't any more they can pick up from surveillance and pulling her records and police reports, and Steph is back at the manor now, and she --
And they don't have time for any of it. For anything at all except for the dealers who made the huge fucking mistake of being in the way.
And... there's a moment when it could actually be funny, because both he and Tim just kind of stand there for a minute, until they figure out that they're both waiting for the other to take out their frustrations, and the dealers are looking at them like they aren't sure if they're awake, and...
It'll be funny when it's not Tuesday. He's sure of it.
For now, Jason just keeps punching his guy until the noises get soft, and the crunches beside him are all about how Tim's guy will never roll another joint.
Tim had said something about hand-breaking being 'excellent insurance against recidivism' once, and he doesn't have time to think about that, either.
They leave them for whoever gets there first, because he doesn't have anything like the... anything to deal with Essen right now, or even a 911 operator, and he sure as fuck isn't going to make Tim do it.
Because Steph hadn't wanted him in there with her, but for some reason Tim was okay, and he doesn't know whether to be terrified or grateful or relieved or fucking confused, and they don't have time.
They don't have time.
And right now, Steph is at least back at the Manor, with Alfred, in the room he'd made up for her God only knows when, and she's safe, and she's...
And that has to be enough about that for now.
They rappel down from the roof and get to Bertinelli's window just in time to see her tugging on her tights.
The fact that Tim doesn't automatically turn away says so much about what's going on his head right now that --
Jason waits until she's covered up and then knocks.
And then they both edge the fuck away from the center of the window, because that crossbow comes up fast.
And doesn't go down again so much as get held in a slightly less purposeful way.
"Good instincts," Tim says.
She opens the window with her non-crossbowwielding hand and moves back enough to let them in.
And to keep both of them in range. For some reason, she's focusing more on Tim.
"What the hell do you want?"
"To make you a proposition," Tim says.
She snorts. "Look, kid, I don't even know you. What's the problem, Batman? Last one bail out on you?"
"Last one got his ass kicked by the Joker, actually," Jason says in his normal voice, and watches her see him.
It really is true about the Robin colors being distracting.
"And you don't know me, either."
For a moment, it's really obvious she isn't sure whether to shoot them, or which of them to shoot first, and he can feel Tim calculating a pre-emptive strike, but then she crosses her arms over her chest.
The wicked-looking point on the bolt winds up pointed at the ceiling.
"So what is this, exactly?" she says, and really, it's good enough.
"Just what he said, Huntress. We have a proposition. We want you with us."
"You --" Her laugh is closer to a caw than anything else, or maybe like one of those birds on nature shows. Ospreys or hawks or whatever.
Jason waits for her to finish.
"Okay. Whoever you are --"
"The Robin who got his ass kicked, actually."
"-- the last Batman and I didn't exactly see eye to eye. And I don't see why --"
"The last Batman," Tim says, quietly, "is dead."
The expression on her face is more of a snarl than anything else, but Jason doesn't think she's angry, exactly. But he also doesn't have time, tonight, for bullshit.
"You've got skills and resources we don't, Ms. Bertinelli. We have the same. Let's stop fucking around and do something with it."
She blinks at him, rapidly, and for a moment Jason is stuck between wanting to redesign her mask and hoping to God they've gotten through to her.
"The last Batman didn't seem to find anything remotely useful about my --"
"Oh, Jesus fucking Christ, Bertinelli. Stop being pissed off at a dead man and listen to us!"
"You don't talk to me like that," she says, and takes a step forward.
He doesn't have to look to know that clicking sound is Tim's staff.
Neither does she.
This time, the snarl looks nothing but right on her face, and Tim says, "Huntress. We don't, actually, care about whatever you and the former Batman argued about."
Jason nods. "As far as I'm concerned, if you're with us? You can do whatever the fuck you want so long as it doesn't fuck with what the rest of us are doing, and so long as you make a sincere effort not to kill anybody with those fucking crossbow bolts."
She looks at him, and stares at Tim, and then looks at him some more. "Fine. Then drop the masks and let's see what we're dealing with."
Jason yanks back the cowl. Tim only pauses for a second before pulling out the tin of solvent.
They both watch her breathe. Her nostrils actually flare a little.
"Mother of God. You're both infants."
"Infants," Tim says, spinning his staff over his fingers, "with resources."
"I... I need to think. About this."
Which is... better than it could be. Jason pulls a pen and paper out of his belt and scrawls out the number to the phone line which, as soon as he hands it over, five people will know. "So think about it. And make the call."
He pulls the cowl back over his face and heads out the window, shooting his grapple and hearing, as he flies, "And you need a better set of timers for those lights."
He can feel Tim behind him after another minute.
"I'm here," Tim says into his ear.
"Heh. Nice one with the staff."
"I've been practicing."
"You don't say." They should hit East side. It's been a few days. He just wants to get back to the Manor. To the Cave. And they need... "Do you think she's --"
"Absolutely. You had her at the whole 'just learn to lie to us when you kill someone in cold blood' bit."
Jason chokes so hard he nearly flubs his landing. Tim's own is perfect, and there's a smirk on his face. "That is not what I said."
Tim smirks a little wider and taps his comm off again. "At the very least, your plausible deniability is in excellent condition."
Tim dodges the punch and blocks the second and then attacks. The expression on his face shifts just enough to look really fucking brittle as they spar, but it doesn't stop looking real.
Real and happy, almost. Or at least just... alive.
The moon is high and Steph is home and Huntress is theirs and Tim is smilingly trying to kick a dent in his cowl -- he's more flexible than Jason was when he was healthy -- and he's...
Jason's distracted enough that the leg-sweep staggers him, but when Tim pounces it's still easy enough to use his momentum to send them both to the roof.
Tim's breath, when it whoofs out over Jason's face, tastes like peppermint.
And Tim takes only about a second too long to roll off and crouch beside him, instead of on him.
And Jason would be lying like a dog if he tried to tell himself he didn't know why that made him disappointed. He doesn't have time to lie to himself, either. But. "She's ours."
"She wants your hot, manly resources, Batman. I don't see how any vigilante can resist."
Jason snickers and slaps at Tim's knee. Slaps wildly enough that it has no right to actually hit, but, of course, it does. "God, you're fucking nuts tonight, man."
"It's... been a day."
"I... yeah." A Tuesday, in fact. And Steph...
Tim's voice is different enough, the change is sudden enough that Jason's up on his elbows before he can think about it. Too low and serious without being Tim-serious. "What is it?"
Tim shifts beside him and looks down at the roof. "I don't think she's mad at you. Batgirl. She's just. I think she just needs a little time, and then, you know, the two of you... well."
And Jason has to spend some serious time just staring like a retard at that before it finally clicks. "I... uh. Whoa. You didn't actually know, did you?" Tim looks up sharply, and, right, suspense equals bad. "Steph and me... I mean, she broke up with me, like, two weeks ago. Not that we were dating, but... uh. Yeah."
Nothing visible on Tim's face actually changes, but Jason can feel him staring through the mask.
"Yeah, she... thinks we're better as friends then trying for... And maybe we'll... uh. In the future..." Jason gives up and waves a hand.
"Are you sure it wasn't just because she knew about the pregnancy?"
Which... ow, and really just ow, but... "I think she was still pretty comfortable with the idea that she wasn't really pregnant... at the time, anyway. And... uncomfortable with other things."
"Oh," Tim says, and looks down again.
"Are you..." He covers Tim's kneecap with his hand, and then just watches Tim... watching his hand. "Tim..." He doesn't actually know what he's going to say.
"You should get back to the Manor. I need to
go check on my mother," Tim says, and
stands, straightening his cape with a practiced shrug of his shoulders.
And... he'd said mother, not parents, and... crap. Jason stands, too. "Are you actually going to tell me what's going on at your place?" He tries a smile. "I kinda miss the reports on As the Drake Turns."
The answering smile on Tim's face is tight and painful-looking and humorless, but still very real. "Not tonight. Just... not tonight."
"I... okay," he says, and puts out his fist.
Tim punches it, and Jason watches him leave.
Alfred's in the kitchen with tea when he gets in, and... he can't actually read that for signs.
It's been a while since he's come in this early, after all.
"Master Jason," Alfred says, and immediately starts moving around to pour him tea as well. He's pretty much given up trying to convince the man he can do anything more complicated than dress himself.
The tea is hot and strong and in no way caffeinated.
Jason's pretty much surrendered that battle, too.
"Miss Stephanie was asleep when last I checked. I do believe that last mug of chamomile may have done the trick."
Tea. Yeah. "And the horse tranquilizers you put in it, too, right?"
Alfred gives him the look that pretty much translates to 'I'd rather be smacking you with a rolled-up newspaper than simply giving you a withering look, but one does one's best.'
Jason grins at him over the rim of his mug. "Sorry, Alfred. I'm sure the Valium was more than effective."
"Hm. In any event, while the day has been a deeply trying one for Miss Stephanie, I've no doubt she'll recover. In time."
That last was more pointed than Huntress' crossbow bolts. Jason nods slowly. "I think Tim and I bought us a little more of that tonight."
Alfred raises an eyebrow. "Indeed?"
"I think we have a good chance of having a Miss Helena in the family before too long. Cross your fingers, hunh?"
If Alfred knows the name or how Bruce had felt about her, he doesn't make any sign. He just nods and sips his tea and says, "Miss Stephanie may appreciate a bit more leavening to all of the overweening masculinity."
"I hope so," Jason says, and finishes his tea in a gulp. "I have to admit, I don't actually know what to think about how... accepting you've been."
Jason does his level best to look clueless. It's not hard.
For a moment, there's a small, secretive smile
on Alfred's face, and then it's hidden by the tea
cup again. "I haven't changed my mind about
how I feel about this... undertaking of yours,
nor have I changed my mind about the
importance of choosing one's battles.
"However, it's rather reassuring that you seem to have abandoned your desire to rush headlong toward suicide alone rather faster and more thoroughly than Master Bruce ever truly did."
And Jason wants to stammer or maybe protest -- Bruce had learned, and anyway it hadn't helped, in the end, because...
Alfred saves him by filling his cup again. "You might consider taking this upstairs with you. You have a nigh-unprecedented opportunity to sleep nearly six hours before you'll need to rise for school, and a wholly unprecedented opportunity to do so without first having been grievously injured."
Jason isn't sure about that. There were enough points in that sentence that he isn't sure why he isn't hemorrhaging all over the table. But... "Thanks, Alfred."
"We live to serve, Master Jason."
There's a lamp on in Stephanie's room, but it's small and weak and does a better job of making the room look warm and soft-edged than it does at actually lighting it. Her hair is spread over the pillow, her breathing is even, and whatever Alfred had given her is doing the job.
Time. He hopes it's just time she needs, or maybe just something else he can actually get her a little of.
He thinks about Bruce, and the number of times he'd watched Jason sleep, and it's a little like carrying some of the warm back into Bruce's room with him.
Enough of it, at least, to make it relatively easy to get to sleep.
And relatively easy to dream, and he's not even remotely surprised that it's Bruce. Bruce's eyes on him, dragging him up from sleep, and Bruce's hand in his hair.
He laughs, a little, and feels vaguely surprised at the fact that it's such an unfocused sound. Nothing sounds better than laughter -- real, sane laughter, anyway -- in a dream, usually.
"You need to sleep, Bruce," he says, and has just enough time to realize that his speaking voice sounds strange and muzzy, too, before he hears,
"I'm not Bruce."
At which point he's awake. And... not alone. Tim is sitting on his heels on Bruce's side of the bed, and Jason sits up and catches Tim's wrist before he can get it all the way out of Jason's hair. "What -- is -- is it your family?"
"Among other things," Tim says, and looks down at Jason's hand for a beat before looking back up again. "I'm no good at... this. Any of it. You're the only person... so you need to tell me if I need to go, or if it's just too... soon, or... something."
He's wearing a t-shirt and jeans -- which suddenly, despite all the evidence to the contrary, seems wrong -- and his pulse is racing under Jason's hand and he feels...
And no matter how wrong it seems, it feels good to sit up and pull Tim against him. The cotton of his t-shirt is a soft tickle against Jason's bare chest, and his mouth is wet and soft and tastes like coffee.
Jason pulls back. It's dark enough in here that it's actually impossible to have any idea what's on Tim's face, but... "Is this what you came here for?"
"Is it what you want?"
And... Tim. From anyone else, he's pretty sure that would mean he'd have at least a few alarms going off, even in the middle of the night after a Tuesday. But it's Tim. And maybe he should still have those alarms going off, but. He pushes one hand into Tim's hair and gropes around with the other until he can cup Tim through his jeans.
"Jason." It's barely a breath.
"Yeah," he says. "It's what I want."
And Tim either has better night-vision than he does or great instincts, because the kiss is hard and dead-on, and he's pushing hard into Jason's palm, and the noises are still soft, but...
Constant. One moan after another into his mouth, and Tim covers Jason's hand with his own and forces him to squeeze.
"Easy, Tim, you --"
"Jason." Quiet and desperate, and now it's a rhythmic squeeze, urgent and nearly painful on his hand.
A part of his mind is saying something about remembering being fourteen.
Another part is wondering why sixteen suddenly feels fucking old.
It's easier not to think about it, and just roll them back down on the bed. It's slow and careful, but Tim still can't quite compensate for it, landing on him in a sprawl, gasping and grinding his hips against Jason's abdomen.
Lower, with those jeans, and it would be way more uncomfortable than hot.
"Here," he says, and cups Tim's hips, pushing them up until Tim is mostly balanced over him on his hands and knees and Jason can work on his fly.
"Yeah. Yeah, just let me -- in --"
This gasp is soft and soundless as the rest, and Jason barely has a grip on Tim before he's coming all over Jason's hand and stomach.
"No, no," and Jason wipes his hand over his own stomach and the feel -- "God --"
Tim cups his face with one shaking hand and leans in for another kiss. This one is slower, and he tastes more like want than coffee, and then Jason gets his hand down to Tim's ass, over his stretched briefs --
And the kiss is wild, messy just that fast, and when he slips his tongue into Tim's mouth, Tim sucks so hard it hurts and Jason has to squeeze, and Tim doesn't grind back down against him so much as drop.
And groan against Jason's jaw.
And lick his scars and really grind, and the noises Tim's making sound almost pained and all Jason can do is hold on.
He doesn't know what he wants, because he's pretty sure that right now, right here, there aren't any limits at all.
"Yeah," he says, and cups Tim's hips again, yanking him down until his teeth scrape the scars on Jason's collarbone and Tim's dick is making his own slick and wet.
Tim bites his collarbone and works his hips hard and fast. No rhythm, just a gracelessness Jason can't stop finding both terrifying and hot.
"I want you. Tim, I --"
"Need me. You said you need me --"
"Yes -- fuck --"
Tim's hands scratching down his sides and Tim's hips bucking against his own, and -- "I want -- I want --" Tim shudders, all over, and makes himself stop thrusting. Jason can feel the effort, and then Tim braces himself up on his hands. One hand, the other moving over his chest, mapping scars by what's probably touch and memory, before Tim finds his nipple and twists.
"Oh fuck, Tim --"
"You like that. It feels -- you feel --" The sound Tim makes is strangled and high, and he grinds against Jason again, making Jason's dick flex and pulse pre-come.
"Do it. Do it again -- fuck, fuck --"
He feels his head slamming back against the pillow in the same way he feels his hands tightening far too much on Tim's hips -- distant and vague and unimportant against the bright, sharp arcs of feeling thrumming down from his nipple to his dick, against Tim's dick leaking all over his own.
Against Tim's voice --
"Only one. You're the only -- and I need you so badly, Jason, I just -- I have to --" And Tim scratches at his nipple and moves --
Down the bed. Down his body until he's straddling Jason's knees. "Yes, I... oh...."
Bending, Jason thinks. He has to be bending, and it has to be kind of a stretch, and then he can't really think at all, because Tim's nuzzling Jason's dick and --
Mouth. His mouth --
Jason spreads his legs and Tim sucks on the head of Jason's dick and grabs him at the base with one hand while the other moves between.
Squeezing Jason's balls with the same rhythmic little pulses he'd wanted for his own dick and moaning. Muffled and low and vibrating through him, and Jason tries to say Tim's name, but the sound doesn't come out coherently at all. He has to try again, he has to --
"Tim. Gonna -- gonna make me come --"
And Tim squeezes hard with both hands and Jason shouts and comes, hearing his hips pop and completely unable to feel it or care.
He listens to the sound of their breathing instead. He's panting. Tim... isn't. The rhythm is steady; it's just the depth that's ragged and off. And he has no idea what that might mean, because Tim just sucked his fucking brain out the head of his dick.
Jason stares up at the ceiling and... there's no and. He can't see the ceiling, and suddenly that's just too much wrong. He gropes for the bedside lamp and squeezes his eyes shut before turning it on, and...
He'd forgotten to warn Tim, who's blinking owlishly from down between Jason's knees. His lips are swollen and his cheeks are flushed and, even with the blinking, his expression is just --
Jason hears himself make a noise that doesn't even try to be a word before it comes out of his mouth, and then sits up far enough to grab Tim's hand. He's clumsy and needy and clumsy, and he didn't really need to smack himself in the balls with Tim's hand, but it's worth it to be able to push it back and down.
Where he needs it.
"You're hard again. I know you are, man. Just... please. I need --"
And something just flares behind Tim's eyes, and he twists his hand and pushes --
"Ah -- oh fuck -- oh fuck --"
Too long. Too fucking long, and he hadn't just kept Alfred from cleaning out the closet in here. The lubricant is right where Bruce had left it.
Jason swipes out a two fingers-full and reaches down, and he just means to get some on his ass, but Tim's fingers are on his, rubbing and sliding and Tim's looking at him, and at their hands, and at the whole room.
Bruce's room, and Bruce's bed, and --
"Yes," he says, soft and clear, and shoves his slick fingers in deep.
Jason bites his lip to keep from screaming and only mostly succeeds, and Tim... Fuck. In him, ruthless and just a little too fast, just enough too fast --
"Do it. Fucking give it to me --"
And Tim groans and pulls his fingers out, and Jason can hear him slicking his own dick, and the room is hot and close and reeks of sex, finally fucking reeks of sex again, and --
"Now. Do it now --"
Another groan, this one choked off with a gasp when Tim pushes in -- "Jason -- Jason, you're -- oh God --"
Jason plants his feet and arches, and --
"Jason --" Tim clutches at the caps of Jason's knees, twists his hips and shoves in --
"Yes, come on, just --"
Again, and he has to shove his fist in his mouth to keep from shouting. Keep from --
And someone's making a sobbing noise and someone's fucking whining, and it's not the same, nothing could ever be the same, but it's good, it's --
"So fucking good, don't stop --"
Don't -- and Tim's fingertips dig into his knees, incautious and painful and good, and Jason grabs his dick and jacks himself hard, fast. Like he does in the shower, these days, only this time...
Bruce's bed under him, again, and Tim over him, scratching at his thighs and in him --
"Oh -- oh --"
"Fast. Do it fast --"
"Jason --" And Tim does, gasping and driving in and in and in, and his eyes are squeezed shut and his arms are shaking, and he's biting his lip hard enough that there's a skinny little line of blood running down his chin. Like come.
Like the fucking O'Malleys', and he's going to wipe a gauntlet across his face at any moment and fucking grin and Bruce will reach out --
Bruce will shove in --
So hard --
And Jason hears himself groan something he knows he'll eventually be glad was completely incoherent and lets his head fall back --
"Jason," so strangled and quiet, and one of Tim's hands falls lightly over the one Jason's using to jack himself and -- "Jason, please..."
"Need you --"
"Oh --" And Tim's hand spasms on his own and Jason can feel him, so wet, so --
And Tim collapses over him and Jason can't stop jerking himself off, even though every stroke pushes his knuckles hard into Tim's abdomen.
All Tim does is grunt and pant, though, and Jason's close, so fucking close it feels like he maybe wouldn't even feel it when he came, that it would just be that one last thing before his brain stopped and he could --
Tim wraps his arms around Jason's chest.
Squeezes. "Jay," he whispers, and it trips Jason over the edge, breathless and shaking.
Tim just holds on.
Tight, until Jason can make himself move enough to stroke the long, still-perfect planes of his back.
And then Tim relaxes enough for Jason to actually breathe.
It's five, which means he's got about half-an-hour before he has to wake Tim up to send him home, back to whatever the fuck had driven him here tonight.
He has almost two hours before he absolutely has to start moving in order to get to school.
He has no idea when or how to deal with the fact that they, as Steph's 'girlfriend,' have to figure out a way to get her back home, and, presumably to school.
Most importantly, he has no more than
twenty-five minutes to come up with the brilliant plan that will allow all of them to just blow the day off and start fresh tomorrow.
Well, after tonight, anyway.
He doesn't have a lot of faith in what he can do with twenty-five minutes, even considering the fact that Tim has rolled off him to curl up on Bruce's side of the bed. He has oxygen, and he has...
Well, it's at least enough time to get to the kitchen and begin hunting down wherever Alfred hid the caffeinated coffees. He moves.
Jason... really doesn't want to think about how much time it took to get from the bed to the closet. Or how long it took to figure out the freaking mechanism of his robe.
Jason gets the door open just in time for Steph to knock on his nose.
"Ow. Also fuck. Also --"
"Jesus," Steph says, shoving him aside to stare past him. "Is that Tim?"
"Yeah, shh. He's still sleeping."
"Really not," Tim says.
Or not. Jason rests his head against the gentle, soft pillow of the doorframe. "Well, fuck it then. One of you needs to make coffee. And not the one in the can labeled coffee, because that's decaf."
Steph snorts and leans on the other side of the door. "It's your manor."
"Mm," Tim says. "Also, you said you were going to do it."
"You were cursing out your bathrobe, I think," Tim says.
Steph punches his shoulder. "'tard."
He's almost sure Barbara never called Bruce a 'tard. Almost.
"Oh, how wonderful to see you all up so early," Alfred says from the dimness of the hall, and the near-presence of an exclamation point in his voice is enough to make Jason absolutely sure the man hates them.
Steph just groans. Or possibly Tim. It's really, really hard to tell right now. "Alfred --"
"It's always so wonderful to see young people fresh, well-rested, and positively bursting with the joy of --"
"Hm," Alfred says, and Jason had never needed to guess where Bruce had gotten that 'laugh' from. "Indeed, Master Jason. I believe you'll find what you're looking for in the cupboard nearest the sink, behind the glassware."
Steph -- definitely Steph -- moans. "I think I love you, Al."
"My heart is warmed. Good morning, all."
"God. I bet you could see your reflection in his shoes," Jason says, and works on regaining the ability to walk erect.
"Yep. And yours. You look like two-day-old shit, by the way."
Tim does way too fucking good a job at the Alfred-Bruce laugh. "Whereas you only look --"
"Like one-day-old shit. Yeah, I know, freakboy. And fuck off -- he drugged me. What's your excuse?"
Jason blinks until he can keep his eyes open. "You knew the tea was spiked?"
Her grin is sharp and familiar and right. Her eyes... aren't. Quite. "Hey, I slept, didn't I?"
Jason grins ruefully. Wider when he feels Tim
moving up to join them in... Jason's other
bathrobe. Which is both impressive --
considering the silence and the fact that Tim was bareass naked about three seconds ago -- and disturbing. Jason's robe is about --
"God!" Steph's tone is somewhere between amused and disgusted. "You're probably a perfect size two, aren't you?"
Tim raises an eyebrow. "Well, I can't say I've checked..."
Steph snorts. "Whatever. I'm just stating now, for the record, that when we need to do the disguise thing with, like, some freaking damsel in distress? Not me."
Jason waves a hand and leads the parade toward the coffee. "Noted."
"Do I get a say in this?"
Jason yawns. "You're Robin. Tradition. Legacy. Stuff."
"Your arguments are less than convincing," Tim says, and ties an extra knot in the belt.
"Obey the Batman, freakboy. He sees and knows all."
And Tim... laughs. Quiet, brief, but... still. Laughs.
It has to be a good sign.
At the very least, it's not Tuesday.
"You know," Tim says, "some of the seniors at my school have, occasionally, mentioned the concept of a Skip-Day."
Skip-day. It's definitely Skip-day.
End note: I've played timing games with Steph's pregnancy and Helena's timeline in general, but more because I had a hard time telling what happened when relative to the rest of the Batverse than out of any great desire to play merry hell with their characters. Here's hoping it wasn't too jarring.
Title: All innocence
Series Name: The Angels You Need
Author: Te [email] [website]
Details: Series | NC-17 | het *slash* | 85k | 09/12/04
Characters: Jason, Steph, Tim, Helena, others
Pairings: Jason/Steph, Jason/Tim
Summary: It's scary when it's simple.
Notes: Disturbing content.