Dick was taking too long stripping off his gloves.
Tim thought at first it might be an injury, maybe a sprained wrist, so he kept an eye on it as he flipped through digital crime reports. Alfred would be heading upstairs shortly, inspections finished for the night -- well, morning; Tim's watch had just finished buzzing out 5:00 am. There was a quiet, restfulness to the cave at this time that Tim liked. It was good for working. No one else was around.
It wasn’t until the elevator closed, airy silence descending, that Tim realized Dick had been waiting to talk to Tim alone. A little frisson of excitement ran up his arms. He wasn’t a tiny Robin craving Nightwing’s recognition anymore, not for a long time, but it still felt good. He kept his eyes on the screens. Curiosity was distracting.
“Tim,” Dick said eventually, “do we know anything about Jason’s dating history?”
Oh, Tim thought. That wasn't what he'd been expecting. Maybe a consult or backup, but -- dating? It crossed his mind that he was about to have some kind of STD conversation about Jason, which would be strange, but he'd deal with it. It was probably something else though, but what? Gossip?
He spun slowly toward Dick. “Would this be a better question for Oracle?”
“Babs? I guess -- no.” Dick dropped heavily into a chair, wheels squeaking. “I can’t ask two people about this.”
Tim's eyebrows climbed. “Well, now I'm curious.”
Part of him -- the part that was still raw from Jason's violence when he'd first returned -- wondered if finding out dirt on Jason would end in pain. He imagined Jason in a letterman jacket shoving Tim's scrawny teenage body into a locker -- clang! Tim snorted. The fantasy wasn't plausible; Jason had died before his sophomore year and Tim had dropped out at about the same point in favor of a GED. They had neither of them spent much time inside a high school, but still, the teen movie trope felt right.
“Tim.” Dick gave him a tired look. “Do we?”
“Track Jason's dating history? No, or rather, I don't. B would, given Jason’s mental health. So if we don’t have it, Jason’s not very public about it.”
Dick rubbed a hand over his face. He looked tired, which Tim didn't like at all. It was why he'd initially suspected injury.
“Why are you asking?”
“I can't tell you, Tim. You’re not a neutral party.”
Now Tim had to know. Even if he didn't strictly want to. Jason was a svelte tank with that devil-may-care James Dean thing going on; who knew what sexual escapades he'd gotten up to -- or with who.
Tim just didn't like the look on Dick's face.
“Hypothetically,” he said reasonably, “who would you consider a neutral party?”
Dick made a face. He knew Tim was right there. “Fair point,” Dick said.
“I'm not Jason's enemy or his critic -- at least not unfairly, I think.”
“I know. I know who your Robin was, Tim.”
Tim turned away from Dick's too-knowing look. "Hopefully, he never figures that out. I need every blind spot I can get.”
As far as Tim could tell, Jason had never done the math on Tim's nighttime photography habit, on what it really meant that Tim had been four goddamn years old when he'd seen Dick's parents fall. Jason didn't realize the Robin who had appeared most frequently in Tim's secret photos hadn't been Dick. Tim didn't know if he wanted Jason to know. On one hand, maybe Jason would finally understand that Tim had always been on his side. On the other, Jason was a surgeon with his verbal attacks, and Tim had too many weaknesses already.
Tim took a breath. “Sorry -- I said I wasn't his critic.”
Dick sighed. “You're right about his blind spots. It's frustrating, trying to distinguish between what he's hiding deliberately and what he doesn't even know he can't see.”
“And he's hiding his dating history?” Tim said, hoping Dick would elaborate.
It wasn't subtle. Dick winced. Tim almost felt bad -- but he couldn't help if he didn't know. “Tim, I can't.”
“It's not just neutrality. It's what Jason would find humiliating.”
“Did he ask you for advice?” Tim hoped it was true. It would make Jason more human, less a force of nature or an arm of God's wrath. “Does he think I'm going to tease him like a schoolyard bully?”
“He thinks everyone's a schoolyard bully,” Dick said. “When you're wounded in a corner, every inch of lost ground is…”
Tim picked at a chip in the edge of the desk. He was thinking about Jason in that imaginary letterman jacket.
Jason hadn't been a big Robin. He'd been smaller than Tim going by his file and the notches on the locker room wall. Thinking about that in the context of what had happened to him was nauseating. Maybe Tim should recast Jason into a different teen movie trope. Maybe he was the weird theater nerd getting shoved into a locker next to Tim.
A part of Tim rebelled at the idea. By the time Tim had met him, really met him, ‘weird theater nerd’ wasn't the role Jason had been playing in Tim's story.
“This is about you too,” Tim said. “If you can honestly say I'm not the best person available for you to talk to about this” -- whatever this was -- “all things considered, I'll back off.”
“You're going to backseat drive.”
“We're a family of backseat drivers. It's genetic.”
He was stalling. “You want me to swear an oath not to take action on this?”
“You couldn't keep it.”
Tim clenched his teeth. As irritating as a deflecting Dick could be, he wasn't as bad as Jason. Working with Jason drove Tim nuts because sometimes it went smoothly and sometimes Jason got territorial and defensive while holding a loaded weapon. He never wanted to meet Tim halfway and seemed honestly incapable of perceiving the inequality. Dick was right; a lot of that was probably trauma, but it felt like a smug asshole holding them hostage by their desire to help him.
Jason didn't get to do that to Dick and then pretend Dick wasn't going to get his family's support.
Dick tipped his head over the back of the chair and aimed a self-deprecating smile at the darkness. “How much of a mess do I seem right now?”
“Huge,” Tim said honestly. “Dick, I promise not to backseat drive anybody's emotional health except your own and only as a listening ear. Tell me before I have an aneurysm.”
Dick craned his neck to check the cave for occupants. Finding it empty, he pulled himself by his heels to the console, reaching past Tim for the keyboard. A window popped up -- a silence protocol, the surveillance equipment turning off.
“Dick,” Tim said carefully, hair rising.
“It's fine! Nobody's dying.” Dick had belatedly remembered hypervigilance was a family tradition. Tim gave him an exasperated look; he was going to have an aneurysm before he got any answers.
Dick fiddled with the mouse. His shoulder was warm against Tim's. The cave had gone cordless last year, leaving considerably less for nervous fingers to fidget with. Tim should get some fidget toys down here. You could get versions that were batarang shaped.
“I don't know how to start,” Dick said quietly. He took a breath. “I'm not sure Jason has had sex.”
Lost in plans about bat-branded focus tools, the quiet statement caught Tim off guard. He opened his mouth; he stopped. He didn't know what to say. For one, he wasn't sure he believed it. Was Dick letting himself get too sentimental, thinking of Jason as the fifteen year old he'd been when he died? Jason was decidedly not fifteen anymore.
“I know, but think about it. He didn't get to go through puberty like a regular kid. He spent it displaced, then dead, then training in the art of murder.”
“Displaced?” Tim said. “Do you mean the adoption?”
Dick pointed at him: bingo. “I had a hard enough time at Gotham Academy with my accent. With Jason's? And I don't -- I'm not sure he would have known who he was interested in then.”
It took Tim a moment to catch on. “Ok -- oh.”
Dick winced. Had he been hoping Tim would be too dumb to understand what he meant? Maybe he'd been hoping they could both maintain plausible deniability that Dick hasn't just outed Jason. This was getting personal. And Tim still didn't know why Dick was looking half run-over, half like someone had stabbed his dog.
As far as sex went, Dick might be right -- probably was right -- about the “displaced” and “dead” portions of Jason's timeline, but post-resurrection, Jason had spent plenty of time with men and women both. And vigilantes were famously high adrenaline people starved for human connection. Of course, that was probably why Dick was checking on Jason's dating history. He had a theory, and he wanted to confirm it.
But why. Why had the topic of virginity come up at all?
Dick had to have gotten the idea somewhere, possibly from Jason himself -- no matter how unlikely that seemed -- and Dick wasn't an idiot. Maybe it was true.
And now Tim was sitting in the batcave caring about it.
Thrown, he defaulted to the educational training they all took for handling at-risk kids. A lot of it was sex ed. Handing out condoms in uniform had turned out to be a larger part of the job than he'd imagined when he'd been sneaking out to photograph Batman and Robin on school nights. Not a huge part, just -- larger than imagined.
“Oh,” he said stupidly. “That's fine.”
It was fine. That's what you were supposed to say. In his head, Tim was re-calculating how old Jason was, how many women -- men -- eligible partners -- Tim had seen him with. The answers were: ‘old enough for this to be embarrassing’ and ‘plenty.’
"Of course, it's fine,” Dick said, “but it's not an empowered personal choice when the reason you can't explore is because you're trapped in a murder pit whose motto is ‘survival of the fittest.’’
“Murder pit -- the League? He confirmed that? There's actually a lot we still don't -- ”
Tim colored. His brain was playing catch up, less from the shock and more from the embarrassment of being embarrassed. It was true that at the age Tim had first slept with a girl, Jason had been dead. At the age Tim had slept with a girl for the second, third, and fourth time, Jason had -- probably still been dead or who-knows-where learning the art of murder. Tim had always assumed that sort of thing left space for seduction, but maybe not. Even so, Jason had been back in Gotham for years by now. How many? Three? Four? He'd had time.
Tim was officially a cooler guy than Jason Todd on this one stupid metric.
Dick had that pained look again.
Tim put up his hands. He hadn't realized how unprepared he might be for this discussion. He wasn't even sure why it was bothering him so much -- aside from the fact that Jason was definitely going to murder him. Jason didn't forgive people for having power over him.
"Ok. I get it. Maybe it's possible.”
“It is,” Dick said.
“But why? Why did this come up? Just -- what happened?”
Because obviously something had happened. Dick wasn't curious; he was upset.
Dick didn't answer, gaze unfocused. Tim rolled a little closer until they were pressed together shoulder to hip. There weren't very many people he initiated this kind of physical touch with. It didn't come naturally to him, but Dick -- and Steph and Connor -- somehow opened that path, made it easy and obvious.
Tim kept talking, casting words like fishing lines. “Ok, what about today? He couldn't meet people earlier, but now he's not dead, he's not with the League, so -- ” But Dick had said Jason was wounded in a corner. “You think he's hypervigilant. Unable to let his guard down.” Dick didn't respond. “He's chosen a persona that has to maintain 110% dominance, especially with the company he keeps -- ”
Dick stirred. “I think Roy and Kori are -- ”
“I meant more like the mob.”
Dick put a hand over his face, wincing. “Right. Because he's a drug lord, part time. Of course. Sorry.”
Tim still didn't know what had run Dick through a wringer. Had Jason done something? Or had something been done to Jason? Tim's stomach turned over uncomfortably. Or maybe it was something more benign -- Dick was quiet because he found the whole thing as awkward as Tim.
“They wouldn't make a big deal, right? Roy and Kori. About the virginity thing, if he is...”
“He's not,” Dick said sharply. He pressed his hand flat to the table top. He looked for a moment furious at himself like he'd just fumbled a simple dismount on the rings.
Tim hesitated. “Sorry -- ?”
“I think he was. I think …” Dick trailed off.
“He met someone? And talked to you about it?” Tim tried not to sound skeptical but gave up, going for humor instead: “Were there drugs involved?”
He tried to grin at Dick, but he barely seemed to be listening. Tim nudged him. “Dick. You're giving me anxiety. I'm not good with anxiety.”
“He was in Bludhaven. I never -- I never know what he wants. Or why I try so hard to give it to him.”
Tim thought at first that Dick had changed the subject. When he understood, he shoved back from the desk, the wheels of the chair rattling over the stone floor.
“What? Dick -- are you serious?”
“Yes,” Dick said. He sounded like someone confessing.
Tim surprised himself with the strength of his reaction. Jason was a pain, but he was also in pain. There was a reason Tim kept reaching out, no matter how many times it felt like Jason was shoving Tim into a locker. The things that had happened to Jason, the things he'd done to survive and make sense of his survival -- it was a lot to process, and Tim was willing to be there as Jason slowly worked his way out of violence and fear to what he wanted.
To family. Jason's family.
And Dick had slept with him. That wasn't family. What if Jason -- what if Jason stopped trying. What if that had been the test and they'd all fucking failed because Dick -- Tim's gut turned over.
“What were you thinking? He’s your family.”
“He doesn't want to be family,” Dick said.
“Yes, he does!” Tim said. He knew this in his bones. Otherwise what was the point.
“I tried, Tim. Family is what I always try. He doesn't want me to treat him like family -- it's a downward spiral every time I do, angrier and angrier. He's impossible to talk to. I tried listening for once -- ”
“And decided to fuck him?” Tim was standing. He didn't remember getting up.
“Tim,” Dick said, expression tightening. Tim regretted his phrasing a little but not enough. He'd put in so much work, forgiven so much, just to grow that tiny thread between Jason and his family -- his family! The people Jason doubted had ever loved him, ever thought of him as a son, or would ever take him back. Tim wanted that, he wanted the Robin he'd believed in to look at him as a brother and a successor. Jason belonged here. He had more of a right to Bruce and Alfred -- and Dick -- than Tim did. How could Dick have been so clueless?
“This is Jason!” Tim said. “He wants to manipulate you into doing things that prove him right -- I thought you knew that!”
“Tim, can you pretend for a moment that I am capable of reading context?”
“Were you?” Tim said, incredulously. “Afterwards, did you look back and think ‘I read that right’?”
Dick put his face in his hands. “I don't know. I bought into his whole macho schtick. I didn't think about how good he is at hiding.”
He looked miserable. He'd looked miserable this whole time. At that moment, Tim was glad. He wanted Dick to feel as awful as the rest of them would feel if Dick chased Jason away -- as awful as Alfred would feel.
He surprised himself with the depth of it. He wanted Dick to hurt, and that scared him. Even if Dick had messed up, he was still Dick. Tim pulled himself together.
“Are you okay?” he said. He didn't sound sincere, his heart pumping double time with adrenaline, but he would soon. He hoped.
“What?” Dick gave him a startled look. “I'm fine. I don't mind sex for weird reasons.”
Tim stared at him, as much because Dick didn't look fine as because he didn't make sense.
“I mean,” Dick said, “that sex can be a lot of different things. It depends on how you draw the boundaries. I've had sex for love and relief and to continue a disagreement that didn't fit into words. I have a lot of experience redrawing boundaries.”
Dick noticed Tim's big-eyed expression and his smile turned self-conscious. Tim flushed. It wasn't like this was the first time Dick had talked to him about sex. Tim had brought all his most embarrassing questions to Dick when web searches had been overwhelming and the idea of talking to his parents -- or worse, Bruce -- had been unbearable. Dick had noticed in those discussions that Tim liked data points more than general advice, and so Dick had obliged. It turned out Dick's personal experience had a lot of data points. He hadn't named names, but Tim was a detective and also the Titans were terrible gossips.
At the time, Dick hadn't sounded so pragmatic, talking about sex like an emotional Swiss army knife. Tim wondered if something had changed or if Dick had been editing himself for his audience. Maybe that was one of Dick's regrets, that he hadn't known to edit himself for Jason.
“Sorry,” Tim said. “Just realizing that all those Titans rumors were true.”
Dick rolled his eyes. Then he sighed. “Jason doesn't know anything about the different things sex can be, and I didn't check. I just assumed.”
“But now you know he didn't know,” Tim said. “How? Did he tell you? Or was he just -- clueless? Like, a little fumbling?”
“I'm not telling you that Tim.”
Now Tim was rolling his eyes. “Why did you tell me any of it? I can't reassure you. You shouldn't have done it.”
Tim's fingers itched with the need to check on Jason's whereabouts, to make sure he was still in Gotham. If he'd already left, it might take years to find him again.
“I don't know. I guess I just needed someone to know how badly I'd misjudged this one.”
“Would it really have been less of a disaster if he'd been more experienced?”
“He already believes everything between people is a weapon, Tim. I showed him sex like it was a weapon -- or maybe a knife I was trying to take out of his hand. That was how I knew, I think. He couldn't keep his boundaries straight. Couldn't remember he was trying to hurt me.”
Tim froze. “Trying to hurt you?”
“What you said. He wanted to -- to confirm he was never family. He wanted to fuck to win an argument, to prove that I was wrong, that I'd lied. He wanted to dominate.”
Tim felt like he'd been doused in cold water. He'd forgotten this was Jason. Jason who had a gift for weaponized empathy. He was suddenly glad Jason hadn't been experienced. Who knew how he could have hurt Dick if sex had been a weapon he understood.
“And you're okay?”
Dick waved it away. He still looked like he hadn't slept in three days. “I told you. I'm okay with a lot of different boundaries. As long as I get to draw them.”
Tim suspected that was a lot less true than Dick said it was. For one thing, Dick had sent Slade Wilson an ironic Christmas card at least once in the last five years, and Tim had a new and uncomfortable suspicion as to why. No wonder Bruce had three separate alerts on Slade's proximity.
He looked back to the computer. “I can try to see if Jason's still in Gotham.”
He wasn't really offering for Dick's sake.
Dick thought about it. “No, I can find out if I need to, but I don't think there's a lot I can do. Sex and power can be so poisonous. I wish it could have been a positive part of his life, something that didn't get drawn into his -- survival mode. He should get to fumble around with a crush and discover something joyful.”
Dick's expression softened. Tim knew he was thinking of Kori. Tim was pretty sure Babs had technically been his first, but Babs made him competitive, not soft. “Is that what happened with your crush?”
Dick focused on him, his smile nostalgia-tinged. “Not so rosy for you?”
“Awkward. Very, very awkward.”
“But it was still good, wasn't it? I know I'm reaching -- but sometimes I just get so angry at the universe, and I want Jason to have a fairytale. His dream girl.”
Or dream boy, Tim thought. He had no idea what such a person would look like, someone who could get past the thorny wall of Jason's defenses and navigate the labyrinth of his history. Someone Jason would welcome.
“Are you going to…” Tim didn't know how to say it. Or rather he did, but he was too embarrassed. “Will you… help him with drawing his boundaries?”
Now there was a euphemism.
“Boundaries -- ?” Dick looked away with a frown. Tim had upset him. “No, of course not. Like I told you -- it wasn't... I wouldn't have done it if I'd known. I don't want to be his formative experience here. There's too much baggage. I don't want to be an experience he has to come back from.”
Tim said nothing. It depended, really. On Jason's personal scorekeeping between himself and his family and how he factored sleeping with Dick into the tally. Maybe it depended most of all on what Dick had meant when he'd said, he kept forgetting he was trying to hurt me.
“I'd love to help him if he wants to meet people,” Dick was saying, “but -- what are the chances he'd talk to me?”
“Meet his dream girl first crush, you mean.” Something occurred to Tim. “Did you say that to him, those actual words?”
Dick winced. “Yes.”
Tim blinked. He hadn't expected -- had there been time for that? For pillow talk and heart to hearts? He'd thought somehow that Jason would have taken his victory, his proof of Dick's nonfamilial bond, and vanished into the underbelly of the world. “And he --?”
“He didn't punch me, if that's what you're asking. He looked startled more than anything. Like I was speaking Greek -- no, he speaks Greek. Or reads it, anyway. I thought he'd be angry.”
“He speaks Greek?” Tim said, like an idiot.
“Classics, theater, gender studies. You two are complementary nerds, Timmy.”
“I guess.” He didn't like the idea of allowing the Jason in his head to take off the letterman jacket. As if by doing so, Tim would be letting his defenses down. He didn't trust Jason enough for that -- not with himself and not with Dick either.
“Are you okay? Do you want us to run interference for a little while?”
Dick studied his hands, rubbing them together like he was working with clay. He seemed calmer than he had when Tim had first begun to pry. Tired and worn, yes, but no longer holding on to something that was tearing him up.
“No,” he said quietly, “I can't avoid him. I should to talk to him again. I want to. Like I said, he wasn't trying to hurt me.”
“You said he kept forgetting he was trying to hurt you.”
“Baby steps.” Dick laughed. He looked up, his expression transforming into a wink and a grin. “Don't worry. I can take him. Too obsessed with guns, gets sloppy!”
Dick pushed to his feet, grabbing his gloves.
“Wait!” Tim said. “Dick, are you --?”
Dick turned back to wrap an arm around Tim's neck, nearly suffocating, and press a kiss into the top of his hair like Tim was fourteen again and liable to shake him off at any time.
“Thanks for listening, Timmy. It was a lot, I know. I have to -- I'll let you know.”
Tim watched him go, uncertain he'd been able to offer any real advice. But maybe listening was what Dick had needed.
“Sure,” he said into the empty cave.
His fingers were already moving, pulling up Jason's recent activity file to see when Jason had last been in Bludhaven -- when had all this happened? -- and where the hell he was now.
Tim wasn't as surprised as he thought he'd be to see that Jason was still in Gotham. One knot of worry began to unwind; Jason wasn't going to disappear from their lives forever because of Dick's miscalculation. Another formed: what was Jason planning to do now that he'd stayed? Would he be cruel when Dick tried to talk to him?
The question became more compelling as the data loaded and Tim realized that in the last month, the cave's file on Jason had captured not one trip to Bludhaven but five.