The antique gold coins jingle merrily in the pouch on Selina’s waist as she sprints and leaps across the rooftops. By now she has almost shaken her pursuers—five blocks back she tricked them into a dead end, and they’ve been falling farther and farther behind since.
She drops down onto a lower roof. Safer, more shadows, where she can catch her breath. There’s a tall chimney she knows will hide her well enough until they pass. She slips behind it—
—and comes face to face with a boy. A small, dark-haired boy that looks much too young to be wandering alone at night.
She nearly decks him out of pure reflex. She’s so wired on adrenaline and he’s so unexpected.
He’s bundled up for the cold weather, in dark colours that blend in at night, and clutching a big camera in his gloved hands. He looks as shocked to see her as she is to see him.
“You’re Catwoman.” He stares up at her with blue eyes. “Hi.”
He doesn’t strike her as a street kid or a runaway, he’s too clean and his clothes are too nice. And that camera must be worth a pretty penny, too.
“What have you been taking pictures of?” she asks, frowning. “Me?” Flattered but irritated, she reaches to grab the camera from him—the last thing she needs is some odd little paparazzo compromising her and her work—but he darts backwards, away from her.
“No, not you. Them.” He points across the rooftops, where two unmistakable caped figures are swinging through the air, far enough away that Selina doesn’t have to worry. Batman and Robin.
A rapt expression fills his face as he lifts his camera, adjusts the setting, and snaps three pictures in a row. Hero-worship at its most troubling.
Selina watches him incredulously. “Kid, this is a dangerous hobby you’ve got. The streets aren’t safe for someone like you.”
“I’ll be okay, Catwoman,” he says, looking more concerned about the heroes traveling farther away. “I’m careful.”
“What’s your name?”
“Tim.” He doesn’t offer a last name. Smart.
“Listen, Tim, I know for a fact that Batman’s heading out to take care of some business by the docks. You’ll never get there on foot before dawn.”
“I have a bike.”
“Then ride it home. You won’t get any more pictures tonight.”
“They aren’t going to the docks,” Tim says quietly, fiddling with his camera. She has to lean in closer to hear him above the wind. “They’re going to the 22nd Street bridge.”
Selina raises an eyebrow at him. “Is that so? And what makes you so sure?” He doesn’t answer, just shrugs, and she sighs in frustration. “It doesn’t matter where they’re going. You still won’t catch up to them in time. So, shoo, kitten. Go home. And I don’t want to see you out here again. If I do, I’ll call some of my friends and we’ll all teach you to stay off our territory. Two-Face, Scarecrow, Joker… I’m sure you’ve heard of them.”
“You won’t.” He frowns up at her. “You’re lying.”
He’s right, of course—she doesn’t really count those villains and killers as friends, it was all just an empty threat—but she won’t let him know that.
Selina crosses her arms. “Try me, Timmy.”
He thinks about it for a minute, unwilling to give up, but the fact remains that his heroes are halfway across the city by now. So he tucks his camera safe under his jacket and nervously mutters some excuse to himself about planning to go home soon, anyway. Selina smirks at that as she turns away to leave, and resists making a barbed comment about little boys and bedtimes and curfew.
To make sure he doesn’t get mugged or worse, she secretly tails him until he reaches a nicer, safer neighbourhood, all trees and playgrounds and big homes with shiny, expensive cars. Homes of wealthy executives and lawyers and a surprising number of people whose hands aren’t too clean, Selina knows. She’s stolen from around here before.
Selina hopes that’s the last she’ll see of Tim, for his own sake, but it’s not that easy. She finds him on a rooftop not a week later. He won’t be dissuaded, stubborn kid. Sometimes if she confronts him she can convince him to head home early, but he always comes back another night.
Upon further surveillance, he isn’t as helpless and bumbling as she thought. He’s good at staying unseen. He’s quiet and alert and patient.
He has a knack for figuring out where Batman and Robin are going, their patrol routes and plans for the night, knowledge which Selina takes advantage of once or twice (or more). It’s so much easier to pull off a heist when she’s certain they won’t be close enough to chase her.
Tim helps her track down and gather a litter of kittens one drizzling, miserable night. The mother has gone missing—Selina fears the worst—and her little ones are wandering the nearby alleyways searching for her.
“I found one,” Tim says, jogging over to Selina while cradling an orange-and-white spotted cat. The kittens are pretty big—another couple weeks and they’ll be able to survive on their own. But not yet.
Selina is holding three kittens herself, all purring contently. She’s confident they’ve found the whole litter. They’ve been searching for the better part of an hour, and there’s no more faint mewing to be heard.
“What are you going to do with them?” Tim asks.
“There’s a no-kill shelter a few blocks north of here. I give them donations, and they usually take in strays I find.”
“What if they don’t?”
“I’ll try someplace else. And if I can’t find anywhere… I’ll keep them myself.” She notices how he smiles when the kitten he’s holding licks his hand with its tiny pink tongue. “You’re more than welcome to take one off my hands.”
“I would, but… My parents…” He puts the little cat gently in Selina’s arms with the others, eyes lowered in guilt. “I don’t think they’ll let me keep any. My mom’s allergic.”
Tim strokes the kitten between the ears one last time, a little regretfully, and then he and Selina part ways for the night.
Not for the first time, Selina wonders where the hell his parents are in all this. How can they not notice their son sneaking out so often?
“They’re in Turkey,” Tim tells her a week later, when she finally asks. He’s an open kid, really likes talking now that he’s decided to trust her. “You know, the country. They’re touring archaeological sites there, and they’re going to phone me tomorrow when they get back to their hotel.” He seems excited about that. “And they promised to bring me back a souvenir. A really cool one.”
“They let you go out into the city at night? Alone?”
“Oh. They, um, don’t know about it.” He bites his lip and fumbles with his camera nervously. “You… You aren’t going to tell them, are you?”
“I should…” It’s the responsible thing to do. The adult thing. She should find out who his parents are and tell them what he’s been getting up to behind their backs, before he gets mugged or stabbed or kidnapped.
But she just can’t bring herself to take away something that makes him so happy. He seems like he belongs here. The boy with the camera has become a fixture in her nightlife, as familiar as gargoyles and security guards and the winged symbol shining up against the smoggy clouds.
Tim will be okay, she thinks. He’s a clever kid. And he has her looking out for him.
“What are they like? Batman and Robin?” Tim asks her one night. The way the blurted words come tumbling out, earnest and excited, she can tell it’s something he’s been meaning to ask for a while now. “You’ve met them lots of times, right?”
Selina is sitting beside him on the rusted metal fire escape. She swings her dangling legs lightly as she wonders what she could possibly tell him. Some of the stories of her encounters with Batman—the ones when they’re alone—aren’t suited for his young ears.
“Hon, I don’t get a lot of chances to stop and chat with them. We’re not exactly on the same side. Most of the time I’m fighting them, or they’re chasing me to steal back my prize.” Selina inspects her clawed fingertips, tapping them together thoughtfully. “The bird-boy says some terrible puns—more so the first one, but the newer one’s guilty of that, too. And Batman… the man’s frustrating at the best of times.”
Tim tries to hide it, but he looks disappointed. He was expecting more. Thrilling stories, probably. Action and adventure.
“But there was this one time…” Selina says quickly, remembering. Tim’s already captivated. “Penguin was smuggling endangered animals into Gotham, and I— Batman needed my help to stop him…”
After that, when she finds herself being chased by Batman and Robin after a heist, sometimes she leads them on a detour near where she knows Tim is hiding, to get him better shots. As she leaps to dodge a net batarang, she hopes the kid’s pictures turn out nice.
There comes a night in early spring when the day’s rain has frozen and left thin, glimmering patches of ice over the streets and rooftops. It’s perilous, even for Selina. She has plans involving a treasure trove of a penthouse downtown, but chooses to postpone after nearly slipping to her death five times in as many minutes. The goods will be there tomorrow, and she’d rather not risk getting into a chase and breaking her neck.
She takes the long way back home, going past Tim’s usual spots so she can shout out a warning to him. It’s just not safe tonight.
Selina spots him across the street, carefully climbing the steps of one of his favourite fire escapes. But she’s too late—even as she runs towards him, he’s slipping.
Tim’s feet go out from under him as he reaches the slicker ice at the top of a steep flight of stairs, and it’s a long way to the bottom. He tumbles backwards, hands grabbing but not being able to find purchase on the icy metal. There’s a jarring metallic clang and a cry of pain for every stair he hits on his way down.
Miraculously, he lands on his feet. He slams forward into the railing and grabs it to keep himself from pitching over and falling to the ground below.
For one long second he stands there, gasping and staring down at the long drop, then he crumples. Falls to his knees on the cold metal floor of the fire escape, whimpering as he curls in on himself.
Selina drops down beside him and pulls the shaking boy into her arms. The sleeve of his coat is torn, wet and warm with blood.
“Shh. You’re going to be okay, kitten,” she whispers, quickly checking the wound. She winces in sympathy. It’s a deep gash. He’ll need stitches, lots of them. She winds his scarf tightly around his arm in an attempt to slow the bleeding, and hopes it’s the worst of his injuries. He might have hit his head, she had been too far away to tell. “I’m going to take you to a hospital.”
He’s as unhappy with the idea as she is. He looks up at her with wide, tearful eyes and shakes his head.
“No,” he says, terrified. “N-No, I can’t. They’ll find out. I’ll get in trouble. I can’t—” He wraps his arms around himself, protectively hugging the battered camera hanging from his neck. “I’m fine. I’m okay. J-Just bruises. I’m just gonna go home.”
“I have to, Tim. You need a doctor.” He keeps protesting, even as his trembling gets worse and worse, and she relents with a sigh. “All right. No hospital. I know another place where you can get fixed up. You won’t get in trouble, I promise, as long as you do everything I say. Do we have a deal?”
Selina has no problem taking care of her own cuts and bruises, but the kid should be treated by a professional. A real doctor.
She takes him to the clinic by Crime Alley, the one that doesn’t ask too many questions and never turns anyone away. On the way, they stop at one of her tiny hideaways so she can change into some stashed civilian clothes. She passes herself off as Tim’s distraught aunt to the doctor. The story is that she’s taking care of him for the weekend and he slipped down the steps of their apartment building.
The doctor, an older, slightly weary woman, seems a little suspicious—which is impressive, because Selina considers herself an impeccable liar and Tim’s playing his part well—but she has her hands too full with other patients to linger long. Tim isn’t the only one to have had a nasty fall on the ice—the beds are full of people with broken bones.
“I’m stupid,” Tim says, his voice hollow, as he sits on the cot and waits to be discharged. He scratches at the thick bandage on his arm morosely. “You were right. I shouldn’t… I shouldn’t be out at night. I’m not strong enough, I’m just… I— I wish I was better—” Selina lifts up his chin to make him look at her.
“You really want to be out there?” she asks seriously. He nods, his eyes determined, and she kisses him gently on the forehead. “Then I’ll help you. I’ll teach you.”
Bruce came to the apartment wanting to speak to Selina. Instead he finds a boy napping on her sofa, with about half a dozen cats curled up around and on top of him. A little, orange-and-white spotted one curled up on his chest, two matching tuxedos by his feet, a smoky grey one stretched out against his side. They all seem to be breathing in unison.
The boy smiles in his sleep. He doesn’t even seem to mind that one of the cats, a monstrous fluffy tabby, is lying mostly on top of his face.
Blue eyes flutter open groggily, then go completely round in shock when he realizes who he’s looking at. The boy jolts like he’s been electrocuted. He sits up as fast as a bullet, nearly flinging the cats off of him.
“Batman,” he says under his breath, and then louder, more excitedly: “Oh my god. You’re actually—”
“Are you awake, kiddo?” Selina’s voice drifts in from the other room. “I can get the limo to drop you off at home on my way to the gala, or you can stay here tonight and watch the cats if you want—the spare room’s all set up. Just let me know.”
The boy’s grinning ear-to-ear. He extricates himself from the pile of cats as carefully as he can in his excitement. “Selina, Batman’s here!”
“I’ll be out in a minute,” she calls back, not sounding surprised at all. “In the meantime, offer our guest a drink, will you?”
“Okay!” He beams at Bruce and practically skips over to the kitchen. “Do you want—?”
“No,” Bruce says curtly. The boy looks hurt, so he adds, “Thank you.”
The cats are crawling away from the sofa now that they’ve been woken up. They slowly start to scatter around the apartment, mewing softly. A calico sidles up close to Bruce and rubs its face against his leg.
He wonders about the boy and his relation to Selina. A nephew? A cousin? A brother? He thought she didn’t have any close family. Something about the boy’s face seems familiar, but Bruce can’t remember where he’s seen him before.
The calico reaches up and tangles its claws in Bruce’s cape curiously, trying to play with it like it’s a pair of curtains. He gently tugs his cape out of its grasp, but the movement just seems to entrance it more. It pounces, capturing the fabric once again. Bruce gives up.
The boy is staring at him in awe. A few times he opens his mouth and takes a deep breath, looking like he’s about to say something, but when Bruce glances at him expectantly he loses his nerve, clamping his mouth shut and looking away.
Bruce thinks that he should have just waited and talked to Selina during patrol, outside, to avoid all this.
Finally, Selina emerges from the bedroom wearing a silk bathrobe, her hair styled and make-up done for a party.
The gala, of course. The Kane charity gala. He is supposed to attend. Alfred reminded him just that afternoon.
“How nice of you to invite yourself over,” says Selina. “I see you’ve met Tim.”
Bruce looks back at the boy. “Tim?”
“Oh! Sorry. Hi, I’m Tim Drake.” Tim holds out his hand. Bruce hesitates, but reaches out and shakes it. The boy looks delighted. “I’m really happy to finally meet you, Mr Wayne.”
Bruce’s blood runs cold. He turns to Selina, fighting to keep the horror from showing on his face or in his voice.
“You told him,” he accuses quietly, eyes narrowed into slits.
For about a month now, Catwoman’s been hinting, quite strongly, that she knows who he is under the cowl. She’s been holding that precious piece of information over his head like a guillotine, teasing and threatening just enough to warn him that he’s at her mercy, and Bruce has been at wit’s end just trying to figure out how she discovered it, what loose end he could have possibly left. It’s the reason he came to her apartment this evening.
Selina shakes her head. “No, he told me. He’s known for years.”
“Don’t worry, Mr Wayne. I’ll keep your secret, no matter what. I swear.” Tim makes the promise earnestly, smiling up at Bruce. “And I was wondering… I have some pictures I want to show you, but they’re at my house… Can you come back tomorrow? And maybe you can sign a couple, if that’s okay? And my action figure? Can you bring Robin over, too?”
Bruce doesn’t know what to say—he settles for a silence that he hopes comes across disapproving rather than stunned.
“Tim, hon,” Selina squeezes his shoulder and gently pushes him towards the kitchen. “Bruce and I have some important business to discuss first. Can you go feed the cats for me? And feed yourself, too, while you’re at it. You worked hard in training today.”
The boy seems a little disappointed. But he goes, casting a yearning glance back at them. The cats trail after him like ducklings.
“How did he find out?” Bruce demands.
“I’ll let him explain the details to you himself—it’s pretty interesting how he figured it out. Long story short, he was quite enamored with your first Robin.” Selina smiles and laughs softly to herself. “It’s cute.”
“Selina!” Tim exclaims indignantly, poking his head around the doorway, his face flushed pink. He’s been eavesdropping. She shoos him away with a wave of her hand.
“He made me promise to keep it a secret,” she tells Bruce. “I told him how much info like that could sell for, but he just gave me this look and said, ‘Selina, he needs his secret identity so he can be Batman. And Gotham needs Batman.’” She sits on the armrest of the sofa and gives a careless shrug. “I suppose he has a point. Besides, trying to sell that secret is more trouble than it’s worth. If I went flaunting it around I’d be more likely to get it tortured out of me than get the money I’m promised.”
“You mentioned training. Don’t tell me you’re—”
“Relax. I’m not in the market for a sidekick. I’m just helping him with his hobby.”
“Photography. He enjoys taking pictures of Gotham’s nocturnal winged creatures. Like certain birds…” Reaching out, she runs a finger down across the symbol on Bruce’s chest. “…and bats. He’s out there nearly every night, haven’t you noticed? I’m just teaching him how to protect himself so he doesn’t get hurt, and so I don’t have to keep a constant eye on him.”
From the kitchen, there’s the sound of meowing and cat food rattling into dishes. Selina stands and casually rifles through some papers on the coffee table, like Bruce is easily ignored, a guest she couldn’t care less about, but the glint in her eyes betrays her. She’s enjoying this immensely, having Batman speechless. Telling the world’s greatest detective everything he doesn’t know and hasn’t figured out yet.
“That boy is something else,” she says, with pride and fondness. “He fooled his parents into thinking I’m a real martial arts teacher. They’ve been writing me cheques to pay for lessons. Look at this.” She hands Bruce a cheque. “I don’t know how he did it.”
“Janet Drake?” Bruce stares at the signature. “Jack and Janet Drake, of Drake Industries. This is their son.”
“Oh, don’t give me that look, Bruce,” says Selina. He still isn’t used to her calling him by that name. “You know I’m not the kidnapping type. I don’t ransom children. I’m just helping him out.”
“I’m not happy about this,” Bruce tells Selina coolly. If the boy gets hurt while chasing him and Robin around the city… it’ll be entirely his fault. “Any of this.”
“Well, that’s too bad.” She gives him a frown of fake sympathy. “But, what can you do about it? He’s a determined kid.”
There are a lot of things he can do about it. He can speak with the boy’s parents. He can threaten to speak with the boy’s parents. He can…
As though reading his mind, Selina leans in close and talks in his ear, quietly enough so Tim can’t hear from the other room no matter how determinedly he might be eavesdropping.
“As far as number-one fans go, you can do worse than Tim Drake. He practically worships you, Bruce. But it wouldn’t be smart to make him upset with you. You might break his heart.”
Tim’s a little upset that Batman left in a rush before he could talk to him some more. Almost a week has passed and he hasn’t come to visit again.
Over and over, Tim worries that he made a bad impression and thinks about how he could have done it better. Batman was angry that Tim knows his identity, that much is clear. Maybe he shouldn’t have blurted it out so suddenly like that. But he can’t apologize and explain until Batman comes to talk to him.
He’s spending the afternoon at Selina’s apartment again. He likes it here—his house seems too big and lonely when his parents are out of town. Selina left to run some errands, but there are still plenty of cats around to keep him company and beg for his attention.
His favourite orange-and-white cat, Tribble, winds around his feet and tries to trip him as he returns from the kitchen with a juice box.
There’s a tapping at the window. Tim turns around and chokes, nearly inhaling the little straw. Juice rushes up his nose, and he coughs and coughs.
Robin is hanging upside-down on the other side of the glass. He taps again, laughing at the sight of Tim spluttering, and it’s clear what he wants. It takes Tim nearly a minute to fumble open the latch, his hands are shaking so much.
Selina returns home three jewels lighter than when she left, pleased about the large chunk of cash in her purse. Sometimes those sales go nastily. She has to deal with criminals to sell stolen goods, and they like to try scamming her. Never successfully.
Tim isn’t alone, she realizes as soon as she’s swinging the door open. There are two voices. The second one she thinks she recognizes…
And she guessed right. Tim and Robin are sitting on the sofa, watching Tim’s favourite Star Wars movie. Robin, at least, is watching. Tim seems too busy watching Robin.
“Welcome home, Cat-Lady,” says Robin, grinning around the juice box straw between his teeth. “These are some nice digs you got here.”
“Good evening, Robin. Does your daddy know you’re here?” Selina responds smoothly. He narrows his eyes a little bit at that, and she turns to Tim. “Tim, next time please give me a call if you’re inviting crimefighting vigilante boys over.”
“Sorry…” he begins sheepishly.
“Don’t worry about it, hon.” Selina mindlessly pats him on the head as she passes, and then, similarly, pats one of the cats perched on top of the sofa. “Order a pizza if your guest wants to stay for dinner. You know the number. Now excuse me—I have some incriminating evidence to hide.”
Tim takes to the training quickly. Within a couple months he’s more surefooted and agile. By the time summer rolls around Selina stops worrying so much about him getting mugged. She’s taught him a dozen ways to disarm a knife-wielding thug—none will waste a bullet on a random kid when they might need it against Batman—and three times as many ways to sneak and hide and avoid those confrontations in the first place.
With the warmer weather and no school in the morning, Tim’s out almost every night. He explores taller buildings, using his newfound nimbleness to climb higher than he dared before to get the perfect shot. A few times Selina scolds him for a too-risky venture—like the time he tried to climb rain-slicked suspension bridge rigging—but he’s usually smart enough to remember his limits.
Batman still avoids Tim like the plague, but Robin’s a different story. He visits Tim more and more frequently, getting the boy’s hopes up, making the poor starstruck kid think they’re good friends. Whether it’s on Batman’s orders or against them, Selina isn’t certain, but it smells like a rotten ploy to her. Typical manipulative Bat.
When Selina stops to say hi to Tim, maybe ask about the dynamic duo’s activity for the night so far, it’s not uncommon for her to find a certain brightly-dressed birdie already hanging out on the rooftop with him.
“Hey, kitty,” he says with a big toothy smile, slinging an arm around the younger boy’s shoulders. “You look like you’re up to no good. You here to try and corrupt my buddy Tim?”
Selina rolls her eyes. “No more than you are,” she says coolly.
Sometimes he shows up at Selina’s apartment to see Tim, both in uniform and not, and the only reason she doesn’t kick him out on the spot is that he’s polite enough to leave most professional business at the door—she’s vowed that the first time she sees him snooping, she’s throwing his scrawny butt out the door. Or the window.
Tim hasn’t gotten to show Batman any pictures like he wanted to, but he shows Jason. Selina’s coffee table gets covered in Tim’s favourite photos, the shots he’s proudest of taking, and Jason nods along, listening as he rambles excitedly about the story behind each one.
“And this… this is you kicking Riddler in the face when he robbed that bank in November and tried to escape from the roof, remember that? I had to climb up a telephone pole to get a good view and it was kind of hard to take the picture without falling, since it was so windy, but it barely came out shaky at all!”
During his fourth visit, Jason picks up Tim’s camera and takes a selfie of the two of them together. Tim looks so stunned that Selina thinks he might pass out.
While Tim is having a fun summer, sneaking out every night and making friends with a costumed vigilante, Selina has some fun of her own.
The Bat is giving her some breathing room for once, probably scared she’ll spill his secret if she thinks he’s too much of a nuisance. Her profits have never been higher, and the balance of power has never been more even.
It’s good to be on even footing with him. To match him secret for secret.
She wrangles herself invites to more glitzy events, not just because of the so many shining, sparkling baubles within easy reach, but because she gets to tease and taunt Brucie Wayne. Sure, it’s a two-way street—now he can keep as close an eye on her as he wants, he can try his best to subtly intervene on her pickpocketing opportunities without having to worry any longer about making her suspicious and tipping off who he is, but, truth be told, she’s encouraging him to stick close. Just a little.
It’s just too entertaining to watch Batman—the terror of Gotham’s criminals, the dark knight of vengeance—hurry to fetch her another flute of champagne.
The two of them are featured in a lot of the gossip rags, with all the close attention Brucie is paying on her. All the times he drags her to the dance floor to keep her away from the ladies’ jewels and the men’s wallets and shiny cufflinks, and all the times he insists on giving her a ride home in his limo to keep her from sneaking back into the mansions and penthouses to crack open safes for hidden treasures.
Tim’s parents spend so much of the summer traveling that, from what Selina’s hearing, they barely even seem to touch down in Gotham between trips. They take Tim with them just once, for a week in Italy, and he comes back tanned and slightly freckled and happier than Selina’s ever seen him. Even happier than he gets capturing a perfect picture of Batman and Robin.
He doesn’t shut up for days, and he gives Selina a souvenir he bought for her—a little figurine of a cat dressed as Julius Caesar. A horribly tacky piece of tourist junk. She doesn’t even know how he found such a chintzy thing. But it’s really sweet of him, so she puts it on a bookshelf in her apartment.
She’s sad to see him leave in the fall, even though it means more time for herself and less bird-boys hanging out at her place. Now that Tim’s going into junior high, his parents enrolled him at a boarding school outside the city. Too far away for him to make his usual excursions.
The cats miss him terribly. Especially the orange-and-white one that Tim had helped find on the streets as a kitten and Selina had taken in when the shelter didn’t have room for the whole litter.
Tim named him something like ‘Trouble’—Selina keeps forgetting. He’s lonely and inconsolable. Always lying on the windowsill and watching the sidewalk. Tim pops in to visit on some weekends and vacations, and every single time his cat goes berserk, meowing frantically and leaping up into his arms the second he’s through the door.
Selina tells Tim about her heists, and the strays she’s been seeing on the streets, and what Batman and Robin have been up to lately. Everything he missed out on. Tim tells her about his classes and the friends he’s made, and how he’s the fastest in his gym class now and sometimes picked first for teams because he hasn’t lost a dodgeball game yet.
Selina finds it rather odd—they’re all things she’d expect him to be telling his parents, not her.
Selina is polishing and appraising some nice silver acquisitions from the night before when she hears the news about the Drakes. For one split second her blood runs ice-cold and she stares at the television with wide eyes. She can only breathe again when she remembers that Tim wasn’t with his parents. He’s at home on spring break—she saw him just two nights before.
She thinks about how silly it was of her to forget and nearly panic like that, and then she realizes that he’s alone.
But he probably isn’t, she reminds herself as she resists the urge to head out the door. He probably has aunts and uncles. Grandparents. People to take care of him. He doesn’t need her. Her hand hovers over the phone, but she tells herself to wait.
He shows up at her doorstep the next evening.
There’s no bicycle to be seen. He walked, and it’s a long way from his house. His shoes are caked in mud and his clothes are soggy even though it hasn’t rained since noon—he’s been splashed by a few cars on the way. He’s shivering and red-eyed and runny-nosed, looking as miserable as some of the scraggliest, sorriest cats Selina has taken in.
“I— I didn’t know where to go.” Tim’s shaking so hard that Selina isn’t sure if it’s from being cold and wet, or if he’s suffering from shock. He clutches his jacket tighter around him, rustling the papers he’s hiding inside it. “…I r-ran away.” He blinks a few times, as though surprised at himself. “I shouldn’t have. That was a bad idea. I just— I—”
His voice breaks, and the only sounds he makes are from quiet, hiccupy breaths. Selina’s already ushering him inside, where it’s warmer. He’s just another stray in need, and she’s never been able to turn one away before.
It’s dark and late and Selina’s tired, but she just rubs at her aching eyes and keeps reading. The only light in the room is coming from her computer screen. Scattered on the table are the papers Tim brought with him. Financial and legal documents, warnings and notices from banks and companies. Selina can understand enough to know it all tells a grim story about the Drakes.
Out of the corner of her eye, Selina spots a slither of movement in the darkness at the edge of the room, and a shadowed figure steps forward. Batman.
She isn’t surprised. She expected him sooner.
“Their own company conspired against them,” he says, cutting right to the chase. “The Drakes were so busy traveling, too focused on their hobbies and expanding their company internationally, that they weren’t paying attention to what was happening right here.” He picks up one of the papers on the table and examines it. “Their executives weren’t happy with some of the decisions they were making. People the Drakes trusted betrayed them to other companies. They worked from inside to drive the company to ruin, and then took their new positions with the competition after the collapse. And they were smart enough to cover their tracks. There’s no proof, no way to incriminate them. The company is being sold piece by piece right now, and the only ones that could even try to stop it are the Drakes, but they can’t. For obvious reasons.”
“I already know that it’s fraud,” says Selina impatiently. “That’s obvious. Even with how hard they’re trying to keep this hush-hush.” It must have happened so quickly, the kidnapping and the company crumbling and the buy-outs and the burning of the paper trail. Too quickly, too conveniently. “…But what about murder?”
“I haven’t been able to find any evidence that the kidnapping was planned by anyone other than the kidnapper himself. That doesn’t mean I’m ruling it out, but it’s likely they were just waiting for the right moment to act. This was it.” His eyes are hidden, but Selina notices his head tilt in the direction of her laptop screen. He makes a grunt of something like approval. “I see you’ve already made the connection. Drake Industries isn’t the only company to be divided and taken over so suddenly. There have been others, recently. Similar Gotham businesses, part of the same pattern. But death wasn’t a factor in the other cases.”
Selina frowns and taps her fingernails on the table, thinking. It could just be some dirty business and plain bad luck, but she can’t shake the feeling that it goes deeper than that. The involvement of a few companies—Luthor subsidiaries, according to the bit of research she’s done—has her more than a little suspicious.
She never feels bad for rich people losing their fortunes and getting knocked down a peg. If she did, she wouldn’t be able to do her job. But she feels bad for the Drakes, if only because of Tim. He’s such a good kid, he doesn’t deserve having one parent dead and the other halfway there. He doesn’t deserve having his life turned so cruelly upside-down.
“He really has nothing left?” she asks Bruce.
“There are trust funds from his parents and grandparents that are safe. Most of the Drake’s assets weren’t so lucky. Between their company failing and the ransom they had to pay… their house will need to be sold to pay their debts. That’s just the beginning.” There’s a pause, just long enough to be awkward, before Bruce asks almost hesitantly, “How is he?”
“Sleeping, finally.” Exhaustion had claimed him a couple of hours ago and Selina tucked him into bed. Last time she checked on him he was still asleep, surrounded by a purring guard of cats. “I’m taking him to the hospital tomorrow to see his father. Any news on his condition?”
“He stabilized an hour and a half ago. They don’t know when he’ll wake up from the coma.” Bruce’s voice changes, becomes quieter, softer. That middle ground between Batman and Bruce Wayne that he only uses when they’re alone. “Selina, Tim Drake is a runaway. The police are searching for him. You can’t hide him here forever, and you can’t take him to his father without the hospital asking questions. You aren’t his legal guardian.”
Selina bites her lip unhappily. That’s been worrying her even more than Bruce knows, and though she doesn’t want to admit it she hasn’t been able to think of a solution besides, well, telling a lot of lies and hoping no one calls her out on them. She’s good at lying. Very, very good, but even so…
“I knew his parents,” Bruce says. “Not well, but I think I can convince the authorities to let him stay with me, at least for a while. We can say that he and Jason are friends. He’ll be safe—”
“There’s just one problem,” Selina interjects.
“You think he should stay with you.”
She nods. “Yes, I do. I care about him. He’s…”
She isn’t sure how to finish that sentence. Her friend? Her student? Not necessarily her responsibility, and certainly not her son, and yet…
“You’ll need these.” Bruce hands her a thick folder from beneath the folds of his cape. She opens it and finds official-looking papers and documents and pieces of identification. They’re all forged, and forged well. The only reason she can tell they’re fake is because the documents and information are about her, and they all have one small difference. “Call the police within a few hours and tell them you’ve found your nephew. They shouldn’t give you trouble about letting him stay with you—you’re now his closest living relative. I’ve taken care of the… paperwork.”
“That must have been some interesting paperwork.” And it means he knew how this would pan out before he even got here. Selina wonders if she should be offended that he finds her so predictable. She tsks and closes the folder. “Forging official documents. You’re toeing your way into some very grey places, Bruce.”
He doesn’t look particularly concerned. “If what happened to the Drakes is part of a larger plot, their son might be in danger. He needs to be somewhere safe. You’ve always been adept at staying under the radar.”
She raises an eyebrow. Is that a compliment or a complaint? She finds that she doesn’t really care right now, as long as it means he isn’t going to fight her about Tim.
Selina pats the folder on the table appreciatively and turns to look up at Bruce. “Thank—” she begins, but he’s already gone. Typical.
Tim sits in his nice black suit, Selina’s fluffiest and fattest cat purring comfortingly on his lap. He pets the cat absently, not caring about the hair shedding all over his dress pants. He hasn’t spoken a word since the funeral service.
He hasn’t eaten a thing all day. Selina sets down a sandwich and a glass of juice, and he just stares, worlds away.
"Tim, if you don’t eat something soon you might pass out." He’s so pale.
"I can’t. I feel sick," he says quietly, hanging his head to avoid her eyes. “But thank you. For making it. I— I’m sorry.”
He’s such a good kid. Even after his world’s crumbled, he still remembers his manners. It breaks her heart a little, makes her worry.
It’s weird for him to be so silent and still. It’s wrong. Usually she can’t get him to shut up. Usually he fidgets, restless and bored, if he doesn’t have something to occupy him, his hobbies and his obsessive eagerness to learn and help out any way he can. She’s never seen him just sit and do nothing. It’s very wrong.
Doubt grips her, and for a moment she thinks that maybe it would have been better if Tim went to stay with Bruce. Bruce lost his parents just as suddenly and shockingly, and so did his first little sidekick. Selina’s heard the story of Dick Grayson half a dozen times from Tim. They might have a better idea of what’s going on in Tim’s head. They might know what to say, what to do.
Tim’s favourite orange-and-white cat jumps onto the back of the sofa, saunters over to settle beside his head, and licks the side of his face. Selina watches as he gives a little sniffle and comes closer to smiling than he has in days. She frowns and thinks, no—Bruce might know what Tim’s going through, but he doesn’t know Tim.
“I don’t know… what I’m supposed to do.” Tim confesses. He looks utterly lost, tired and wan and pleading. “What do you do? To feel better when you’re sad? Or… or upset?”
Selina doesn’t say anything, but she knowsTim doesn’t miss how her eyes flick to the vase on the end table beside her. He’s always been observant.
The vase is delicate china, one-of-a-kind, and going to fetch a hefty price once she finds the right buyer. She stole it when she was furious about a trend of poisoned cat food being left out for strays, and the same night she got herself an emerald necklace she’d had her eye on. And matching earrings. A slightly extreme form of retail therapy.
Selina knows she’s a bad role model.
Tim’s still waiting for her to say something. She adjusts the vase absently as she gives thought to her answer, shifting it so it really gleams in the sunlight from the window.
“Some greedy people did an awful thing to your family,” she says. Bruce is going to be livid about what she’s about to offer Tim, but she doesn’t care. This is the best way she can help him, the best way she knows how to help him. “Nothing and no one can undo it—not you, or me, or even Batman. But if you want, I can help you take back some of what they stole from you.”
Jason hasn’t seen Tim for weeks. The last time was at the funeral Bruce dragged him to. He’s popped by Tim’s window a few times here and there, during patrol or just after school, but no one ever seems to be home. Catwoman must’ve moved them to a different safehouse. One that Jason doesn’t know the address to.
He wonders who they’re hiding from, exactly.
He misses the kid. He’s worried about him, wishes they could just talk. Wishes he could do something to help cheer Tim up. But one sprained wrist and one C-plus science quiz and Bruce decides to bench him. By the time his wrist is all healed up and his grades are back where they should be, B’s tights are in a twist about the new partner Selina’s started working with. Doesn’t take three guesses to figure out who it is.
Jason knew they were up to something.
When he does see Tim again, it’s one AM on top of a west-end apartment building with a great view of the downtown lights. The kid’s zipped up in a black catsuit that matches Catwoman’s—he also has the same little kitty-eared hat. His goggle lenses are as bright and blue as kitten eyes.
"I did. I did see a puddy tat,” Jason crows as he lands on the rooftop. Tim looks up and gives a small smile. He’s just sitting here alone, watching the city. Like he’s been waiting.
“Hey, Timmers.” Jason plops down beside him and sits crosslegged. “Nice new outfit. But I think you should add a tail. And some whiskers. It’d really pull together the whole cat look.”
"I don’t see you getting feathers and a beak," says Tim pointedly.
Jason laughs. He doesn’t even get a chance to ask Tim as much as a how are you?before he hears the flutter of fabric behind him and sees Tim’s eyes go wide, and he knows that the big boss-man has followed him here.
"You’re making a mistake,” Bruce tells Tim bluntly, his cape snapping in the gusting wind. “You need to stop this while you still can."
"I don’t have any other options." Tim looks down at his hands, swallowing nervously. "My father… The hospital bills—"
But Bruce isn’t having any of it. “I’ve given you several options, and I know Catwoman has given you alternatives as well. You don’t have to steal. You’re choosingto. Why?”
“I can’t take your money, Batman,” Tim says firmly. “You need it to fight crime.”
The cowl hides it, but Jason swears that Bruce’s eye twitches. He can almost hear the man grinding his teeth in frustration.
“And, evidently, you need it to keep from becoming a criminal.”
"I’m not!" the kid insists vehemently, jumping to his feet. "I’m not hurting anyone, I just…" Tim takes a deep breath. He straightens his shoulders and seems to grow an inch or two as he faces off with the Batman. Doesn’t make a whole lot of difference, but he’s trying, and that’s pretty brave. “Catwoman said the people that betrayed my parents won’t get in trouble for it. They won’t get arrested. There’s no proof they did anything wrong. Is that true?”
“For now,” admits Bruce.
Tim shrugs, glances aside. For a second it seems like he’s turning to leave, but he’s just looking out over the city. Sirens are blaring a few blocks over. “Then I guess… I guess that answers your question.”
“But I haven’t given up on the case, Tim. I’m still working on it.”
“So am I.”
“It isn’t safe—” Bruce begins. Jason butts in, earning himself a stern frown from the boss. If B wants to argue with him about it later, fine. But he’s going about this the wrong way, and it’s Robin’s job to call him out on it.
"Tim, hey, what’s gonna happen if your dad wakes up and you aren’t there because you’re in trouble? You’re in jail or something?" Or worse, but Jason can’t bring himself to say that. "He’s going to need you. You don’t want to let him down."
It almost works. Tim is silent as he thinks, fidgeting and conflicted, but then he shakes his head. “That’s not going to happen. I won’t get caught. Catwoman’s the best at what she does. She never lets me go on my own during a job. I’m not allowed to leave her sight. I trust her.”
“I don’t see her here now,” says Bruce.
"Because this isn’t a job. I’ve been walking around Gotham at night for years, Batman. I’m fine, I promise. And this… this isn’t a forever thing. It’s just for a while.”
The sirens seem to be multiplying. They’re becoming louder and shriller and harder to ignore.
“We’re not done talking about this,” says Bruce, just because he always has to get the last word. Then he shoots his grapple and he’s swooping towards the source of the commotion.
Jason gives Tim a cheery little two-fingered salute as he follows.
That could’ve gone a lot better, he thinks. He tells Bruce as much when he catches up a few rooftops later, and the man just grunts.
It’s barely a week later that Jason finds himself on the opposite side of a crime as Tim. Should be interesting, he thinks. Maybe even fun.
They catch the cat duo redhanded in front of an open safe in a penthouse downtown. The owners are out of town, leaving their jewels ripe for the picking. B chases Catwoman out the window and the smaller kitty is left to Jason.
Tim leads Jason on a merry chase out of the apartment and around the rest of the building. Through a maze of hallways and up and down stairwells. Catwoman has most of the goods, but there are two little pouches hanging from Tim’s waist. They swing as he runs, the contents clinking. Jason tries to snatch them—it reminds him of flag football, like he’s played in gym class—but Tim’s a lot faster than he expected, and keeps darting out of his reach.
Frustrated, Jason leaps forward with abandon, grabbing Tim and tackling him to the ground. They go a little too far and tumble down a short flight of stairs.
Jason stands up and crosses his arms, triumphant. “Gotcha,” he crows.
Tim doesn’t get up. He doesn’t say anything. He just curls up, his face pressed against the floor, shaking and whimpering and quietly wheezing like he can’t breathe. Like he’s in a lot of pain.
Jason’s face falls and he feels sick with guilt. He didn’t mean to hurt the kid. Kneeling down, he gently tries to turn Tim over and check on him.
He doesn’t realize it’s all a hoax until Tim rolls over and kicks him hard in the chest with both his feet, then springs up and sprints away, totally fine. Now Jason’s the one wheezing on the floor. If it wasn’t for the armour in his tunic he would’ve gotten the wind knocked clean out of him.
Jason scrambles to his feet as quickly as he can, grimacing and holding his ribs. The kid’s already gone, disappeared round a corner up ahead.
He fumes a little and kicks the nearby wall. He just can’t wait until he has to explain all this to Bruce.
Selina told Tim to keep watch outside. This is a tricky heist, a challenge even for Catwoman. He spent hours planning the heist with her, so he knows how delicate the situation inside’s going to be. Two people would just get in each other’s way.
It’s okay. It’s fine. He’ll wait out here and keep an eye on their escape route. This is an important job.
(Next time, he assures himself. Next time he’ll be able to help more.)
So he’s waiting. But Selina is taking longer than she should, and he’s starting to worry. She never makes him wait this long. He tries their comm-link and only gets static.
Tim shifts from foot to foot nervously. He knows it’s not just normal interference. Their signal’s being jammed. A silent alarm must’ve been triggered. Electronic lockdown. Security must know they’re here.
He turns towards the door, to go search for Selina, and finds himself staring down the barrel of a gun. Caught.
They’d trained for this—how to disarm, how to keep his cool, how to anticipate his opponent’s movements—but at the moment all those lessons count for nothing. He stands frozen. His mind and body won’t work in tandem.
The guard is saying something. All Tim can hear is his own blood rushing in his head.
He doesn’t tell his arms and legs to move but somehow they do, propelling him forward, punching and jabbing at nerve centres. Taking the man down with the least amount of noise and fuss. The trigger is pulled, but Tim’s already twisting the guy’s wrist, in the midst of disarming him, and the only thing the bullet hits is the wall.
Three more blows and the guard collapses to the ground. Tim pants like he just ran a mile. He did it—he executed the moves perfectly. The mix of terror and exhilaration has him feeling a little nauseous and a lot jittery.
Selina drops down from a window one story above, a bulging bag slung over her shoulder. Her face looks pale as her eyes dart from the guard to the gun on the floor to the bullet hole in the wall.
Footfalls are heading towards them, growing louder. Selina grabs Tim by the scruff of his suit and drags him along with her at a sprint.
“Let’s go, kit. Time to make our thrilling escape.”
Tim thinks she’ll let go once they’re through the hole in the fence that served as their entrance, but she doesn’t and her grip is strong as steel. Unbreakable no matter how he tries to twist free. She’s half-pushing, half-tugging him and the only thing he can do is keep up until she finally releases him, three blocks later.
That isn’t the only time she grabs him by the back of the collar like he’s a bad kitten. Whenever they’re in a sticky situation, whenever alarms go off and the security is hot on their heels, he can expect to be yanked all the way to safety.
He burns with embarrassment when she does it in front of Batman and Robin, because Robin’s laughter always follows them.
“I’m not falling for that,” says Jason, crossing his arms and nudging Tim with his toe. “Not after the first three times.”
Tim stops whimpering in pain on the floor. Stops shaking and hiding his head in his arms. His eyes are dry as looks up at Jason’s unimpressed face.
He stands up, dusting himself off. “Five,” he says coolly.
“It was five times you fell for it.”
“Yeah, well…” Jason’s grin is crooked and teasing. “You make a real convincing feline in distress. Kind of a dirty trick, though.”
“Catwoman says there’s no such thing. There’s just tactics that work and ones that don’t.” Faking injuries was Selina’s idea. She said it’d work really well for him since he’s young, he can play up the illusion that he’s just a little kid, and she’s right. If he fakes some tears, makes the pain seem convincing enough, he can get even the most hard-hearted security personnel let down their guard a little. And that’s all he needs.
“Well, you’re gonna have to think of something new next time,” says Jason. “‘Cause, like I said, I’m not falling for it anymore, Timmers.”
“You need to stop calling me that.”
“What, Timmers? Do you prefer Timmy?”
“No.” He doesn’t prefer either of them, but that’s not the point. “You have to stop with all of them. You’re risking my secret identity. If someone hears… I mean, how would you like it if I called you by your real name while you’re in uniform?”
“Yeah, I get your point, Tim,” Jason concedes with a shrug. He snickers. Jerk. “But, seriously, Tim—if I can’t call you Tim then what am I supposed to call you, huh, Tim? Have you thought up a name to go with the catsuit and kitty ears yet?”
“No… I, uh, haven’t really needed one.” It’s not like he stops to introduce himself to the security guards. It’s usually just him and Selina, and even during jobs she tends to call him by pet names. Hon and kitten and kiddo, but when they’re working it’s most often kit.
He decides it’s wiser to keep his mouth shut about those. Jason doesn’t need to know.
“Well, once you start showing up in the news more they’ll probably come up with one for you. But if you wait ‘til then, it might not be one you like,” says Jason, and Tim has his fingers crossed that doesn’t happen—he’s been good at keeping a low profile so far. “Do you know you’ve got all the cops arguing? They’ve been divided for weeks over whether you’re a Catboy or a Catgirl.”
“That’s good, though. If they don’t know what to expect… it makes it easier to confuse them. Catch them off-guard,” reasons Tim. He shrugs. “It means I haven’t let them get a good look at me. It means my identity’s safe.”
“Huh.” Jason smiles and raises an eyebrow, impressed. “You’re a smart little kid, y’know that?”
“Yes. Um.” He can’t hide the pleased flush that tinges his cheeks. He glances down at his feet a bit bashfully. “Thanks, Robin.”
Jason takes the chance to drive a fist into his gut and snatch the little bag of stolen goods. He sprints away with a cackle while Tim’s doubled over and spluttering.
“Smart, but not smart enough!” he calls over his shoulder. “Better luck next time, Timmycat.”
Jason used to be pretty peeved whenever Bruce insisted on foiling Catwoman alone. Leaving him behind just to spend some alone time with a thief. Not that Jason really wanted to tag along, not after that time he was annoyed enough to follow Bruce and discover them during one of their ‘private encounters’. But still, it sure didn’t seem like a very fair, partner-ly thing to do.
Now things are different, because Tim is in the equation. Now Bruce has to bring Jason along to deal with Tim while he chases Catwoman off to somewhere more private, where he can better focus on divesting her of the stolen goods. Along with other things.
There are still nights when the adults want their dates to be completely free of their style-cramping kids. When Catwoman decides to do some thieving solo, without her partner, and Bruce likewise decides to leave Jason behind. But it’s not as bad, because at least Jason has something interesting to do—keep an eye on Tim.
The kid doesn’t like to just sit at home while Catwoman’s working without him. He likes to roam around the city on his own. He never steals, and never actually seems to do anything illegal at all. (Well, not that Jason’s seen.) He just… wanders. And looks.
For a while Jason suspected he was just window-shopping, in a sense, but he doesn’t stick to the rich, glitzy neighborhoods. He explores all the way from downtown to Amusement Mile and the docks and even to Jason’s old stomping ground—the east end.
Sometimes Jason gets bored tailing him, since Tim never really does anything, and instead goes off hunting for some crime to fight. But, one night Jason dashes three blocks to reach a scream only to see that Tim got there first. He’s been beaten to the punch.
The would-be attacker is face-down on the grimy cement, groaning feebly, while Tim is making sure the would-be victim is okay. She’s fine, just a little spooked, and after a shaky thank-you she hurries on her way.
Tim watches her go. Hiding up above on the fire escape, Jason watches Tim. The kid looks lost about what to do next. He rocks from foot to foot nervously, indecisively, and stares down at the thug lying on the ground, who’s now quiet and seems to have slipped unconscious.
Tim’s right hand seems to be causing him some pain, he must’ve hurt it in the fight. He flexes and unflexes his fingers testingly, clenching them into a fist and unclenching. Peeling his glove off, he tries it again.
He jolts and whirls around when he hears Jason land behind him. Under the blue goggles his eyes are wide. “Oh. Hi. Robin.”
Jason kneels down beside the perp and pulls out a pair of handcuffs. “Playing the hero, Timcat? That’s new.”
“Catwoman helps people in trouble sometimes, too,” Tim says defensively. “She wouldn’t have just let that happen.” He winces again and glances down at the hand he’s still cradling.
“Here, lemme see.” Before Tim can protest, Jason takes his hand and examines it, carefully squeezing the swollen knuckles. “You just bruised them, that’s all.” Still looks painful. And no wonder—the thug Tim punched out is a big guy that looks like he’s got a head like a rock.
Tim snatches his hand back and gingerly pulls his glove back on. “I already knew that,” he says quickly.
“I’ll take care of things from here, so you don’t need to worry about what to do with this guy,” Jason tells Tim. He pokes the man on the ground with his foot and gets a faint groan out of him. “Might want to scram before I go find some cops. They won’t be happy to see you, kitty.”
Tim takes his advice, jumping and swinging up onto the fire escape. As he makes his getaway climb to the rooftop, Jason calls up after him.
“Hey, if you want to hang out later… I’ll meet you in like, twenty minutes? On top of that bookstore a couple blocks over, by the park?”
Tim used to dream about meeting Robin. Now, when Selina won’t let him help her with a job, he sometimes gets to help Robin fight crime.
And it’s incredible. A dream come true. He used to think he’d never even get to meet Robin—either Robin—and now he’s patrolling the city with him.
But only on nights when their mentors are busy keeping each other busy. And when neither of them are benched because of injuries or unfinished homework or upcoming tests. So they don’t get to hang out that often, but when they do it’s a blast.
Selina might be mad once she finds out he’s been throwing himself into danger without having her watching his back—he hasn’t exactly told her about this yet—but he has Robin instead. He knows can trust Robin. It’s Robin.
In the past hour and a half they’ve stopped two carjackers, a drug dealer trying to sell to kids not much older than them, a trio of convenience store burglars, and a purse-snatcher. Tim’s so hyped up on adrenaline and excitement he feels like his veins are buzzing.
Deciding to take a break, they buy some takeout (the girl behind the counter at the fast food restaurant was surprised, to say the least) to refuel and eat it atop a tall department store, where they can keep an eye on the city around them.
Jason steals one of Tim’s french fries and says, “Maybe one day B’ll get old and retire, then I can be Batman and you can be my Robin.”
“But that won’t be for a long time,” Tim points out. “I’ll be too old to be Robin.”
“Yeah, you’re right. He’s gonna be ancient before we can force him to hang up the cape.” He leans back to lie down on the rooftop, his fingers laced under his head for it to rest on. A slow smile spreads across his face. “Guess that means I get to be his Robin for as long as I want. Sorry, Timcat.”
Tim sips his root beer quietly and finds that he isn’t disappointed at all. He’s pretty happy with things the way they are right now.
“Y’know…” Jason says eventually. “You still haven’t explained why you keep stealing. If you stopped, we could hang out like this more often. B said he’d help out with your dad, it’d be no big deal. It’s not like you need to steal or else.”
“That’s true, but… I need more. I need to get back as much of my parents’ fortune back as I can, and I can’t borrow that much from Batman or Catwoman. I’d feel bad. But I can take it from the people that took it in the first place.”
Jason’s mouth twists into something ugly and scornful. “Didn’t realize you were so obsessed with money. Is it that hard to give up being rich?”
“I don’t really care about the money,” Tim tries to explain. “It isn’t about me. I’m just worried about my dad. When he wakes up and finds out about… about everything that happened. It’s going to be a lot to deal with. Maybe too much. I can’t do anything about my mom, or their company, but… I can do this. And it’s worth it, if I can help lessen the blow a little. I just want to make it easier for him.”
He and Selina have been figuring out a way to secretly deposit the new funds into accounts in a way that won’t make the bank or Tim’s dad suspicious. If Tim plays his cards right his dad won’t suspect a thing, he’ll just think the money Tim’s gathered is part of his assets left behind after all the debt payments and foreclosure. Some really was left behind. Just not this much.
Tim needs to steal enough so that his dad won’t have to stress too much about money when he wakes up, enough for them to live comfortably for a little while at least. Rebuilding the company seems impossible, it would take years and way too much money, but Tim thinks his dad can get a job in archaeology instead. He’s always liked archaeology better than business. He can use the money Tim’s accumulating to pay for trips to sites around the world. Maybe he’ll even bring Tim along with him.
Tim likes to think about that. It’s a nice dream to hang onto, even if he knows there’s a hundred things that can go wrong and stop it from happening. He’ll miss Selina, if it actually happens, but he’s sure he’ll be able to visit her a lot whenever he’s back in Gotham.
Jason’s giving Tim an odd, measuring look. Considering him for moment. And then turns his eyes back up to the sky, watching the clouds and the few stars they can see through all the pollution.
“Yeah, I get it,” he says, and he sounds a little sad. “You feel like you gotta take care of your dad, instead of the other way round. And it’s tough, and you worry a lot, because you can’t fix everything—you can only do your best and hope it’ll help.” Jason goes quiet, frowning up at nothing, then he takes a deep, sighing breath and says, “But it sure isn’t gonna help if he wakes up and finds out you’re committing crimes. Or that you’re in jail.”
"I’ll just have to not get caught, I guess,” says Tim, shrugging. He knows it’s not that easy. "Once he’s awake, I’m going to stop. That’s the plan."
Jason opens his mouth to say something, but then there’s the screeching and crashing of tires and metal a few streets away, and the two of them spring into action, hurrying to see what the commotion’s about.
Jason catches Tim with his sticky paws all over someone’s computer keyboard, which is different. No cash, no jewels, just Tim’s little claws clickity-clacking rapidly over the keys. He’s focusing hard on the screen, scowling and hunched over in the cushiony office chair.
Tim pays Jason no mind, doesn’t even spare him a glance. Not even when Jason sidles up beside him and looks at the screen over his shoulder. Tim’s trying to hack his way into a pretty secure network. Ambitious.
“Where’s Catwoman?” Jason asks.
Tim shrugs unhelpfully and keeps typing. “Around. Where’s Batman?”
“Probably wherever she is,” says Jason. He really has no clue. It’s a big office building—they split up a while ago to search for the cats.
Pulling over another chair, Jason gets comfortable, kicking up his feet and resting them on the desk right beside Tim’s keyboard. He doesn’t feel like looking for the boss right now. He really doesn’t need to stumble upon B ‘apprehending’ Catwoman again. Apprehending someone shouldn’t involve that much tongue.
Tim’s eyes flick over to Jason, but he doesn’t say anything and continues working on the computer. This is a regular pattern they’ve gotten into, hanging out while the bat and cat are playing their usual games.
He and Tim hardly fight during these encounters anymore, and when they do it’s more like sparring. Winner takes the spoils. And even when Jason wins and gets back whatever Tim’s stolen, he always lets Tim go.
But lately Jason’s found himself losing more often than not. He’s still ahead in the tally he keeps count of in his head, but Tim’s catching up. Catwoman’s been teaching him some really underhanded moves. Jason thinks it’s about time to stop pulling his punches.
Jason watches the text and symbols on the glowing screen and thinks back to everything Bruce taught him about computers. Tim seems to be on the right track so far, but he’s looking a little uncertain, pausing more and more often in his typing. He’s obviously new to this. Jason smirks, wondering if he can get the kid to screw up.
"Breaking into someone’s office and trying to hack their computer sure is pretty illegal, Timcat.” He leans in close and talks right by Tim’s ear, trying to distract him. Trying to be as annoying as possible. “Probably not more illegal than your usual stunts, but still."
Tim frowns, but won’t look away from the screen. Darn. “I’m not trying to hack. I am hacking. I’m going to get this to work.”
But he’s lost all his momentum and now he picks the keys one at a time, biting his bottom lip in concentration. He’s doubting himself. He reaches a crucial point in disabling the computer’s security, a really tricky part to hack, and Jason can’t help interrupting his focus again.
“Whoa—careful there! Don’t screw it up! You do and you might crash the whole system. Then you’ll never find what you’re looking for.”
Tim narrows his eyes in irritation, but otherwise ignores Jason.
“That command? Are you sure? Isn’t it a bit soon for that?” Jason croons with faked concern. Tim’s still ignoring him. Jason shrugs doubtfully. “Okay, if you really think so… Just don’t say I didn’t try to warn you.”
“Would you shut up for a minute?” Tim snaps. He looks and sounds just like an angry, hissy cat. He stabs at the last few keys and waits, crossing his arms impatiently.
The computer takes a minute to process, and the whole time Tim frowns and tap-tap-taps his finger against his arm.
“Yes!” His voice is hushed but triumphant when the screen changes, proving he’s succeeded. He wastes no time inserting a little flash drive from his pocket and finding the files he wants to copy.
Jason claps sarcastically. “Congrats, Timmycat. More crimes to add to your record.”
“I don’t even have a record yet,” says Tim as transfer finishes. “You’d have to arrest me first.”
That’s a challenge if Jason’s ever heard one. He pretends to think about it. “Hmm… Maybe I will, this time.”
"You won't," says Tim, unworried, and Jason finds he can't argue.
“What’s on the drive, anyway?” Jason points at the little memory stick in Tim’s hand. “What’s so important?”
Tim slips it under his glove for safekeeping. “Just some information.”
“The incriminating kind, I hope. This office belongs to someone who used to be a higher-up at my parents’ company. He quit right before things went downhill, and now he’s practically running this company. I just thought… maybe I should check this out. It’s pretty suspicious, right?”
“Yeah, but B spent a long time investigating everyone involved and he couldn’t find any solid evidence. I’m sure he’s already hacked into here from our cave’s computers. And gotten zilch.”
“It won’t hurt for me to do some extra digging.” Tim has the fierce look of someone who won’t be discouraged. Jason just hopes the kid doesn’t get into himself into trouble because of it. “By the way,” says Tim, “Catwoman’s organizing a theft for Thursday that she won’t let me help with. She says it’s too dangerous. And they’re not the people I’m after.”
“Batman already knows she’s planning something. Meet you on top of that bookstore, ‘round eleven?”
“Sure.” Tim pulls his goggles down over his eyes and walks to the door. He stops and looks back at Jason expectantly. “Well?”
“You’re not going to chase me?”
Jason groans. He’s still tired and sore from fighting Killer Croc the night before. “Do I have to?”
Tim considers it for a second. “Um. Yeah, I think so. We have to keep up appearances.”
“Fine. You get a five-second head start. Better start running.”
Selina doesn’t like hospitals. She’ll do everything she can to avoid hospitals, usually by gritting her teeth and stitching up her own wounds.
Jack Drake has a room to himself, and it’s nicer than most—big window, lots of light, little pictures of his family on the bedside table—but it’s still a hospital room. It’s stuffy and smells like antiseptic and Tim’s father looks like a corpse in that bed, all skin and bones hooked up to a number of beeping, humming machines.
Whenever Selina senses that Tim wants to be alone during these visits, she’ll excuse herself and get some coffee. But other times, like now, he asks her to stay, and she does.
She stands by the window—looking outside makes her feel less antsy about being cooped up in here, even if she can’t open it to let in some fresh air—watching the cars and people go by below, and occasionally reaching over and squeezing Tim’s shoulder comfortingly, as the boy sits and holds his father’s thin hand.
The doctors predict that he’ll wake up soon, but they’ve been saying that for weeks. She won’t admit it to Tim, but she can’t stop dreading it happening. She doesn’t yet know how she’s going to explain herself. And she’ll have a lot of explaining to do.
She thinks about it often, and in her head she varies between ‘I’m sorry I’ve turned your son into a thief, please don’t hate me’ and ‘You should be thanking me, because for some reason I think this is actually helping him cope’ and ‘fuck you—if you’d spent more time at home with him then none of this would have happened.’
It’ll be easier to lie. Except she can’t figure out how to explain her temporary custody of Tim—to Jack Drake she’s just his son’s martial arts teacher.
And it’s not just her who’ll have to keep up with this tangle of lies. Tim will have to lie. To his own dad. Tim’s assured her time and time again that he knew what he was getting into when he became her partner, but she can’t be sure whether he’s telling the truth or lying to make her feel better.
And there’s one more thing she feels guilty about. Something she’s been hiding from Tim.
She sighs. “Time for a confession,” she announces. Tim looks over at her, confused. “Now this was a long time ago… years ago, not long after I first started out.” She runs a hand through her short hair, trying to think of how to explain. “I don’t remember it too well, but I’ve checked my records and I’m certain…”
He’s waiting expectantly for her to finish, so she just gets on with it. No more stalling.
“I stole something from your house. A bronze figurine. Roman? I don’t remember. It didn’t look like much, but it was a very valuable little artifact.”
That’s what Jack Drake had kept saying at a high-society party Selina managed to sneak into all those years ago. Those rich-types sure love to brag. And loudly. He might as well have been begging her to steal it.
“I also took some of your mom’s jewelry. She owned some very lovely sapphire pieces.” Selina figures if she’s going to come clean, she might as well go for squeakyclean.
Tim stares at her for a few long seconds. His eyes are wide but his expression is unreadable. She has no idea how he’s going to react, and braces herself for badly.
She sure doesn’t expect him to laugh. A small, quiet laugh of astonishment.
“I got in trouble for that,” he tells her. His voice sounds far away. “They blamed me. I remember… it… it was Alexander the Great. I was seven, and I thought it was cool, but my parents wouldn’t let me touch it, so when it disappeared they thought it was me. They thought I took it and hid it… until they found out our security system was tampered with.”
“Oh.” Selina cringes slightly. Now she just feels worse. “Sorry about that, hon. A gal’s gotta eat, you know? No hard feelings?”
Tim’s silent for a minute, thinking. He doesn’t seem angry, and for that she’s glad. “What did you do with it?” he asks finally.
“The figurine? Sold it to a private collector here in Gotham. We can go steal it back, if you want to. It’ll be easy.”
Tim is silent again. He looks down at his father’s sallow, unchanging face, then he lets go of the hand he’s been holding, placing it gently on the bed. He stands and turns to Selina, and his eyes are sharp and bright like those stolen sapphires. “Yes, I think we should.”
Jason’s hiding something behind his back, under his cape.
Tim tilts his head quizzically. Then he hears the meowing.
Jason thrusts the tiny cat into his hands before he can say a word. “I found her all alone and didn’t know what to do. I figured you would.”
The kitten is a grey tabby, small enough to fit in the palm of Tim’s hand. Its eyes aren’t even open yet. It butts its head against Tim’s thumb and gives another sad, squeaking meow. Poor thing must be hungry. He holds it against his chest to try and keep it warm.
Tim doesn’t get a chance to ask where Jason found it, or to ask, well, anything, because when he looks up the other boy is already shooting his grapple and swinging away. For a second Tim’s annoyed that Jason would actually dump a kitten on him and leave without another word, but then he sees the familiar symbol shining against the thick grey clouds.
“We should really take the kitten to a shelter,” says Selina, watching Tim try to feed the orphaned kitten with the little bottle, as per her instructions. “They could probably get one of their mother cats to adopt her as their own. That’s what she needs, a mother.”
“But what if all the cats reject her?” Tim asks worriedly as the kitten squeaks and crawls out of his hands and onto his lap. He cradles her in his palm again and urges her to drink the last few drops of milk in the bottle. “And I think I’m getting the hang of this. It’s no problem. If we keep her, I promise I’ll do all the work.”
Selina sighs. “Tim, you know I love the cats as much as you do, but we can’t keep every single stray. There just isn’t enough room here.”
“I don’t keep every stray—”
She bops him on the forehead teasingly. “Pretty close, kiddo.” He bonds with the cats too easily. He has trouble letting go, even with the ones that are ready to move on. “It’s okay to let them go to the shelters. They’ll be taken care of, get new homes…” Better homes than this cramped apartment. There’s not enough space. They’re maxed out here, and there’s a reason she empties her pockets donating to those shelters so generously and so often. “It can be hard to say goodbye, but most of the time it’s the best choice we can make for them.”
“I know. I get it,” he says wearily. The grey tabby yawns and nestles into a comfy fold of his sweatshirt, ready to sleep. He smiles. “Just not this kitten. She’s special.”
Selina resists the urge to roll her eyes, because to Tim they’re all that special. “Why’s that?”
“Because… Because um… Robin gave her to me,” Tim mumbles, avoiding her eyes. “To take care of. I can’t hand her over to someone else. He’ll be disappointed. He trusted me with her.”
She smiles smugly and disguises a burst of laughter as a cough. “We sure don’t want to disappoint Robin, do we?”
Jason’s entirely to blame for the two of them falling into the river. He claimed that they would be able to swing from their rooftop to the perps’ getaway boat easy by grappling off the bridge.
But he was wrong. So wrong. And now they’re soaking wet and coughing and shivering from as they crawl onto the bank after almost drowning in the chilly water. Tim can’t feel his toes and he doesn’t even want to think about how much dirty water he swallowed.
Jason’s in an even worse state, with his bare legs and arms. His lips are almost blue and he can barely speak for shivering. “Know s-s-somewhere w-we can w-warm up?” he asks Tim hopefully.
The perps are long gone, they sped away while Jason and Tim were taking their embarrassing dip into the river. They won’t be able to deal with those guys tonight.
Tim leads Jason to the apartment he shares with Selina and the cats. It’s supposed to be secret—Tim hasn’t had Jason over since the old apartment, before he became Selina’s partner—but it’s nearby and they’re both freezing and Jason pinky-swears not to tell Batman where it is. He probably already knows, anyway.
It takes a while for them to feel warm again. They sit wrapped up in blankets, holding mugs of hot chocolate as they wait for the dryer cycle to finish. Neither of them are sure whether the Robin uniform’s supposed to go in the machine, because of the armoured fabric, but they’re trying it anyway. Hopefully it doesn’t shrink, or melt, or break the dryer—it’s making some awful lot of noise as it tumbles around in there.
The cats wander out from their hiding places, gathering around the boys and meowing loudly, asking why Selina’s not home yet.
“Soon,” Tim tells them. Some look at him haughtily, others piteously, but none of them shut up. Two crawl into his lap, demanding cuddles.
A grey tabby, a bit smaller than the others, mews at Jason and curls up beside him, nestling against his knee. “Is this who I think it is?” asks Jason.
“Yeah, she’s the stray you found.”
“She’s gotten big.” Jason grins and coos at her. “Hey, kitty, you remember me?”
She turns onto her back, begging for a belly rub. When Jason obliges she purrs loud enough that Tim can hear it from where he’s sitting.
“That’s probably a yes,” says Tim, amused.
“What’d you name her?”
“Uh. Well. Nothing, yet.” He and Selina have just been calling her Robin’s Cat. Which is kind of a problem because she’s actually starting to respond to it. “I was, um, going to ask you. What to name her. I mean, you’re the one who found her.”
“Jeez, Tim, I don’t know… I’m the worst at naming things, okay?” Jason scratches at his head, thinking. “You could name her after Bruce. Or Alfred.”
Selina would probably find it hilarious if they name the kitten after Bruce, but… “I don’t think—” begins Tim.
“Call her Fuzzbutt. Or Stripes. Or… or Noodles.”
"That was a joke."
“Noodles?” asks Tim in disbelief.
“‘Cause that’s where I found her. In a takeout container by a dumpster. Hiding inside with some noodles.”
Tim considers it. “That’s kinda cute,” he says. “But I’m probably not going to name her that.”
That gets him a frown from Jason. “Hey, I thought I got to choose the name.”
“But… I’m the one who’s going to be using the name all the time. I’m the one that’s going to take care of her, since you don’t want to take her home.”
“Who says I don’t?” demands Jason. “Maybe I will.”
Tim blinks in surprise. “Seriously?”
Jason blows on his hot chocolate and takes a careful sip—he’s already complained of a burnt tongue. “Yeah, I mean… I… I just gotta convince Alfie. It just might take a couple weeks… or a couple years. I dunno. I’ll keep you posted.”
“But you’ll take care of her ‘til then?”
“Um, yeah. Of course.”
“Awesome.” Jason grins. The dryer they’re watching gives a loud beep at the end of the cycle. “I’m really glad we’re friends, y’know?”
“Really?” Tim’s heart leaps in his chest. He thought they were friends, since they’ve been hanging out so much, but neither of them have actually said it. Jason’s called him buddy and pal and chum, but not friend, not until now.
“Yeah. Because that means if we ruined my uniform, I can tell Alfred it was your fault. Since we’re friends and all. And because it’s the truth.” His smile turns into something more like a smirk and he nods at the machine. “Your dryer, your fault.”
“Okay, I guess.” Tim can’t help cringing a little as he asks, “So, uh, you actually want to name the cat Noodles?”
“Sure!” Jason says cheerfully, petting the kitten as she kneads her paws against his leg. She’s already grown pretty attached to him. “Why not?”
It happens as usual. A dark room in a quiet building, disabled security systems and picked locks. Tim and Selina trying to tinker open a big, heavy, promising safe.
A faint rustling makes the hair on the backs of their necks prickle, and they turn around to sees what—who—is lurking in the shadows. The Dynamic Duo.
Selina tells Tim she’ll deal with Batman at the same time Batman tells Robin to deal with Tim, and then the two adults hastily disappear around the corner, out of sight, playing their game of cat-and-mouse. Tim’s grown to learn that just because Selina’s the one being chased, it doesn’t mean she’s the mouse. Far from it.
Jason and Tim look at each other and roll their eyes. They aren’t even surprised.
“What d’you got there, Timcat?” asks Jason, pointing at what Tim’s holding.
Tim flips through the wad of cash he found in a desk drawer, counting it. “Only four hundred and thirty dollars. Unmarked bills.” He looks up at Jason. “Want to go get something to eat?”
“That money’s stolen,” says Jason, poking him in the shoulder accusingly.
“Yeah, but, in a way, they stole it from my parent’s company.”
Jason thinks it over, and it doesn’t take long for him to give in. “Okay. Let’s go grab a bite. But I’m picking the place.”
The restaurant Jason chooses is by the east end, a battered, greasy little diner that doesn’t look too impressive but according to Jason it has the best chili in the whole city. He refuses to let Tim walk out of there without trying it, so Tim orders chili fries.
Their orders are taken by a curly-haired waitress that Jason’s pretty friendly with. He asks her about her kids, about her mom in the hospital. She gives them free sodas and teases Jason about his pixie boots. She seems exhausted, says she’s been working since noon, but she perks up when they give her a tip of a hundred or so dollars.
They get their food to-go and head to their favourite rooftop to eat. Jason devours his chili dog before they even get there and ends up mooching half of Tim’s fries. But Tim’s used to it. That’s why he thought ahead and ordered a large.
“I heard your dad opened his eyes,” Jason says around a mouth full of chili fries. “That’s awesome.”
Tim smiles. “Yeah… he still isn’t, uh, himself yet. He can’t talk or move, but the doctors say it’s a great sign! They think he’s going to be fine. It’s just going to take more time.”
Jason nods absently. He seems distracted, chewing on the thumb of his glove like it’s a fingernail as he stares out over the city. He’s a lot quieter than usual. Distant.
“Are you… okay?” asks Tim hesitantly, regretting the question as soon as he says it.
“Fine!” Jason looks confused. “Why wouldn’t I be?”
“I don’t know, it’s just that…” Tim glances down at his feet, fidgeting. “It seems like we haven’t talked in a long time. And my boss has been kinda worried about something she heard from your boss, that’s all. I just thought I’d ask.”
“What did she hear?” Jason asks, narrowing his eyes.
Tim holds up his hands helplessly and shrugs. “I have no idea?”
“Well, I’m okay. We’re both totally okay. I mean, we’re awesome—did you hear how we took down the Scarecrow last week? We busted in on his operation while he was still in the middle of making his ransom video ‘bout how he was going to unleash his new fear gas unless he got money, blah blah.” Jason waves his hand through the air carelessly, laughing. “So, since it was still filming, we got the whole fight on tape. It’s freakin’ hilarious, I’ll have to show you sometime.”
“Definitely,” agrees Tim. He laughs along with Jason but it feels hollow. Not quite right. There’s something wrong, something bothering the other boy, but Tim can’t put his finger on it.
“Stop giving me that look,” Jason says suddenly.
“What look?” Tim has no idea what he’s talking about.
“That— That look. I dunno how to explain it. But it makes you remind me of B.”
Tim lets his expression go blank. “Is it gone?”
Squinting, Jason gives him a long moment of scrutiny. “Kinda. Raise your eyebrows a bit. A bit more. And lower your chin. And smile a little—no, not that much. There, that’s better.”
Tim tries to arrange his face to follow Jason’s instructions. He feels ridiculous and he knows he looks even more so. He gives up and scowls when Jason barks out a laugh.
“I’m telling the truth, Timcat. I’m fine,” Jason insists. “I have no idea what you’re worrying about—you should just relax for once. I’m even better than fine, actually… I got some pretty cool news a little while ago. I’m not sure if I should say…” He hesitates, chewing on the thumb of his glove again. “I’m not a hundred percent sure that it’ll all work out. Or how it’ll all work out. But it’s really exciting.”
“Oh,” is all Tim says. Then, “Okay.”
“Hey, what did I tell you ‘bout that look?” Jason teases.
Looping his arm around Tim’s neck, he pulls him in for a friendly noogie, messing up the younger boy’s hair and turning his kitty-eared hat askew. He smells like cigarette smoke and despite all Tim’s struggling, Jason’s arm won’t budge enough for him to break away from the headlock.
Jason finally lets go and taps the little radio bud in his ear. “Oop, B’s calling. I gotta go find him. See ya later, Timcat.” And he jumps from the rooftop with a wave, smirking while Tim glares and tries to fixes his mussed hair.
Birds like to perch and swoop around their balcony because the old lady in the apartment directly below has bird feeders set up on hers.
Selina hates the birds, she says their chirping wakes her up every morning, far too early for a nocturnal catburglar like her. Tim doesn’t mind them much. There were lots of birds in the tree in the front yard of his old house, so it feels familiar to him.
The biggest problem is the cats. Cats and birds don’t mix.
Noodles—she’s grown pretty big already—is the worst troublemaker, and the one most captivated by the fluttering birds, always watching them through the glass with her tail swishing. She’s the one that’s had the most close calls with catching the birds.
Tim’s pouring himself some cereal one morning when he looks out the patio door and sees the grey tabby pouncing onto a tiny sparrow, capturing it in her claws.
“No!” Tim yells, throwing the door open and shooing Noodles away. “Bad cat!” Startled, she abandons the bird and darts inside. She’s going to sulk and hide for hours, but right now Tim’s more concerned about the poor little sparrow.
Thankfully, the bird’s only suffered some ruffled feathers. It shakes its wings a few times, hops, and then launches itself into the air. Tim watches it fly away until it’s out of sight.
Selina’s calling him from inside. Turning, he sees her standing on the other side of the glass door with a phone held to her ear and a worried expression on her face that immediately makes his heart race in dread.
"Tim? Come inside. I… There’s something I have to tell you.”