The bright blue of the early morning sun bothered Jason more than the bright sunlight seeking to penetrate his skull through his dark sunglasses. The clear sky with the fluffy soft white clouds was a rarity in Gotham. Normally, Jason would be grateful for the midwestern type paradise, but today, the sky felt as if it were mocking his family’s grief. Even though he had composed himself for this trip, there was no denying the deep ache in his chest if he allowed himself to focus on the loss of his father.
Jason swallowed the lump in his throat at the word. It had been so easy to imagine dancing on Bruce’s grave when he had first been resurrected, but now – now, the pain was a deep cavernous abyss that would drown him if he let it. Wasn’t it just yesterday Bruce and he had finally patched up their relationship? God, this wasn’t fair.
Refusing to allow himself to dwell on the ache in his chest, he walked into the upscale building and flashed a keycard along an access panel and punched the button for the top floor in the elevator. There wasn’t any doubt that Tim had rigged the windows with booby traps, but the nerd of the family often overlooked the most obvious entry point because he assumed everyone made things more difficult than they needed to be. Well that, and Tim was currently avoiding Dick, and Dick could never make his entrance through the front door like a normal person. Speaking of his mess of an older brother, he was the reason Jason was bombarding Tim’s apartment on this stupidly bright morning.
Dick had called Jason, his voice thick with unshed tears, to beg Jason to go to Tim because Dick had really screwed up. Jason had wanted to tell Dick to handle his own relationship issues, but the man had been a right mess since Bruce’s death. Not only was he trying and failing to keep his job in Bludhaven and run Wayne Enterprises at the same time, but he also found himself the new legal guardian of Bruce’s demon spawn. Plus, their darling Timmybird was still 17 years old, which also placed Timothy Drake under Dick Grayson’s guardianship, which somehow led to Jason dealing with the emotional fallout of a fight he still didn’t understand. Brothers were wonderful.
Opening the penthouse front door, the piercing darkness prevented Jason from seeing anything but the eerie glow of Tim’s computer screen. Jason removed his sunglasses and flipped on the light switch. Tim let out a hiss and shielded his eyes with his hands.
“Good morning to you,” Jason yelled cheerfully.
Tim blinked up at him a few times as his pupils adjusted to the new light. There was an immediate harshness to his features.
“Did Dick send you?”
Jason elected to ignore the question and hopped onto the couch opposite his younger brother. “You look terrible. When’s the last time you slept?”
Tim glared at Jason. His knuckles were a pale white caused by the balled fists at his sides. He was shaking with either exhaustion or rage, or both. Knowing Tim, it was probably both.
“Did Dick send you?” He repeated, voice clipped.
Jason refused to sigh. “Yeah, but only because he couldn’t find Cass. You don’t know where she’s hiding, do you?”
Tim snapped his laptop shut. “She’s mourning away from the chaos probably. She’ll come back when she’s ready.” He stood up and stumbled slightly. It wasn’t huge, but he’d guess Tim also hadn’t eaten in a while. How was someone so intelligent so incapable of remembering to care for himself? “You can tell Dick I’ve nothing to say to him.”
Ignoring his younger brother’s clear dismissal, Jason crossed his boots onto the coffee table and leaned back further into the couch. “You want to tell me what’s got you so angry with him?”
“Don’t pretend you don’t know!”
Responding to Tim’s outburst, he placed his feet on the ground and leaned forward. “Actually, I don’t. I got a phone call in the middle of the night with Dickie sobbing in the phone, crying about how he ruined your relationship and I had to do something to fix it.”
Dick hadn’t actually sobbed, but that was neither here nor there. Jason knew Dick was holding together by a thread and once he was finally forced to grieve, he would sob horrendously. Jason preferred to do his own grieving in private, but Dick needed an audience to get his walls to break down. And if Timmy didn’t come home, well, the eldest of the Batclan would continue to refuse to grieve until things were fixed, which was 95% of the reason Jason was even here to begin with. His life was so much easier when he hadn’t cared about these idiots.
Meanwhile, Tim looked indecisive as if he didn’t fully believe Jason. He swayed on his feet.
Jason decided for him. “Sit down before you fall down.” Tim straightened in defiance. “Fine, whatever. Just tell me what happened, so I can go home.”
“Or you can go now,” Tim replied.
“Right,” Jason drawled, making himself comfortable on the ridiculously soft cushions. “We both know if I leave, Alfred will send me straight back here. Save us both the trouble.”
Deflating, Tim bit his bottom lip, and Jason repressed a smirk. Tim sat on the edge of the couch and stared at the floor. His whole posture screamed lost. When he finally spoke, it was barely a whisper, “Dick took Robin from me.”
That had Jason bolting to attention. “He did what?”
Tim dug his nails into his palms and repeated with a voice full of anger, “He took Robin from me.”
Jason floundered for a moment. Sure, Robin was Dick’s. Dick had always been the ultimate authority on who wore the Robin costume, but Tim was an excellent Robin. “What? Why?”
Tim’s voice was still shaking with rage. “He said I didn’t need Robin anymore. He said Damian needed it more.”
Oh. Oh. That made so much more sense. “Well, he’s right.”
For less than a second betrayal flickered across Tim’s face before he schooled it into a neutral expression. He moved to stand up, but Jason who had slept because he had cried himself to sleep the last few nights was faster. He grabbed Tim’s shoulders and forced him to look at him.
“How old was Dick when he stopped being Robin?”
“Let go of me!” Tim squirmed underneath his grip.
“Answer the question.”
“I don’t know. 16, I think.”
“Uh huh, and how old was I?”
Something seemed to click through the fog of Tim’s brain cuz he stopped squirming. “15 but you died.”
Jason chose to ignore the reminder of his untimely demise. “And how old are you?”
“17, but –”
“Were you planning on being a sidekick forever?”
“Tim, look at me.” Reluctantly, the scrawny teen flicked his eyes up to Jason. “I know Dick’s a moron, but he’s right about this. You don’t need Robin anymore.” A smirk spread across Jason’s features. “Plus, if you’re not Robin, that means you don’t have to listen to Batman.”
Tim laughed. It was harsh, and then it was bitter. Soon it turned into a desperate sob and Tim collapsed against Jason. Tears pricked against the corners of Jason’s own eyes. He wondered how long it would take for the mere mention of Bruce or his alter ego to not send a fresh wave of grief. He rubbed soothing circles across Tim’s back. Before long the tears subsided, and Jason tried to rouse Tim, only to discover that his younger brother had fallen asleep against him.
“We’ve got to work on your sleeping habits, kid,“ Jason whispered, wiping the tears that had escaped his eyes with a hand. He laid Tim across the couch and hunted for a blanket.
Tim woke up slowly the smell of something. It was a food something, not an explosive something, so that was a good sign. He didn’t have near enough of a fine palette to identify the aroma. He rubbed his eyes and opened them slowly. Tim was in the penthouse on the couch. He was fine. He closed his eyes and considered turning over and going back to sleep. He was comfortable, and his body was heavy. Plus, there was this warm blanket. Blanket? He didn’t keep any blankets on the couch. He jolted back into the present. He had sobbed himself asleep on top of Jason, which meant - Uh oh.
“Glad you’re finally up, Timmybird. There’s lunch on the table.” Jason’s voice turned from false cheer to dangerously sweet as he continued. “I was going to cook for you, but I couldn’t find anything but stale fortune cookies and ketchup.”
Suppressing a wince, Tim joined Jason at the table. There were three rules Tim lived by. Most people thought that Tim lived by a system of complicated rules and structure, but that wasn’t true. There was one central rule that the other three developed from: Do not let his family worry about him. To accomplish that, there were three primary rules. Never let Dick know he was injured. Never let Cassandra know he hadn’t slept. And never ever let Jason know he had replaced meals with protein bars. Tim didn’t know how he managed to be the only sibling that hadn’t developed into a complete mother hen. Being the only sane member of his family had the unfortunate side effect of being the family member most babied. It wasn’t fair.
Bruce was the only one who didn’t treat Tim like an incapable invalid. A fresh wave of pain hit him at the reminder. He shoved it all down. Bruce wasn’t dead. He wasn’t. Tim was going to prove it, and Dick would eat his words.
“I ordered takeout,” Tim replied sullenly to Jason’s raised eyebrow.
Jason scoffed, “I checked the trash. Try again.”
“I’ve been here for less than a day. It’s not my fault that the place wasn’t stocked,” Tim bit out.
In a move that was uncharacteristic, Jason raised his hands. “Okay, Baby Bird. Just eat lunch.”
Tim narrowed his eyes. Jason never resisted a lecture about the importance of food. Glancing down at the large bowl of pho, Tim wondered where Jason found a decent pho delivery place in Gotham. Of course, knowing his older brother, it was a place that only delivered for Jason.
They ate in silence, which was normal for Tim, but unusually for both of his older brothers. Setting the chopsticks to the side of the bowl, he glared at the man at the head of the table.
Unfazed by Tim’s anger, Jason asked, “Did you think about what I said?”
Tim wanted to ignore Jason. He didn’t want to have this conversation, but Tim had never been able to ignore facts. No matter how much he wanted to. He didn’t want Dick to be right about this. He wanted to fuel his anger. Instead of answering Jason’s question, he yelled, “Damian tried to kill me!”
Jason gave him an unimpressed look. “So did I, Replacement.”
“That wasn’t the same!” Tim argued.
“Really,” Jason drawled. “A crazed idiot influenced by Ra’s tried to kill Robin because of personal issues. Sounds the same to me.”
Losing this argument, and worse, knowing it, Tim grumbled, “Damian was never in the pit.”
Jason’s eyes flashed briefly, but he contained whatever emotion that passed across his face. “Are you going to argue that being raised by Ra’s and Talia wouldn’t cause a kid damage?”
Tim crossed his arms and remained sullen. He was angry, and the worst part was that there wasn’t a logical reason for his fuming. He hated this.
“Look, I’m not saying the kid’s a saint.” Tim gave Jason a flat look. “Okay, he’s terrible, but he’s Bruce’s son, and we’re not going to throw him out on the streets.”
“No, just me.” Tim grumbled to himself.
Jason’s face crumpled, and Tim cursed himself to high heaven. He hadn’t meant to say that loud enough for his brother to hear.
“Tim,” Jason began.
Predictably, Jason ignored him. “Tim, I thought you were past this.”
And Tim was. Or he had been, but then Dick stripped Robin from him. Dick had promised to always be there for Tim. He had been the first person to care about Tim, and if Dick would leave him – choose someone else, then there was obviously something deficient in Tim. Horrified, tears sprang to his eyes, and he couldn’t stop them.
“Dick took Robin from me!” Tim cried. He didn’t care about logic or anything else. Another one of his fathers was dead. Only he wasn’t, but Dick wouldn’t even listen to him, and then he stole the only thing that ever gave Tim’s life meaning.
Jason sighed and pressed his finger and thumb the bridge of his nose to stave off a headache. “Dick, you absolute moron. You are a complete idiot, and I’m going to beat the snot out of you later,” he rambled under his breath. Louder, Jason finished, “He was offering you a promotion, not kicking you out of the nest!”
Tim’s anger evaporated with a snap. Motion sick from the sudden stop in his emotions, Tim whispered, “What?”
“Congratulations, Baby Bird. You are full-fledged vigilante now. You get to pick a new name and everything.” Jason deadpanned.
Flummoxed, Tim stuttered, “But he didn’t listen.”
Jason pinched his nose again. “He’s grieving, Tim, and Dick’s an idiot regarding grief.”
Nodding, Tim couldn’t help but agree. Sure, he was grieving as well, but how could Tim forget the way Dick handled Jason’s and Wally’s untimely demises? Guilt snuck in the crevices anger left. Except Bruce wasn’t dead. It wasn’t Tim’s fault that Dick refused to listen to him.
“Bruce isn’t dead,” Tim stated simply, unsure if Jason would decide he was crazy like Dick had.
“Tim.” Somehow Jason’s voice sounded like a tired dad, and for the first time since Jason’s intrusion, he remembered that Jason was grieving as well.
“I can prove it,” Tim argued, begging Jason to listen.
Jason studied him, and Tim refused to blink or back down. “Alright, Timmy, I’ll listen.” Tim started to speak, but Jason held a finger out. “But you’re going to agree to speak with Dick after this.”
“Alright Replacement, let’s hear it.”
Over the next hour, Tim explained his theory about Bruce being lost in time and in need of a rescue. When he finished, he waited for his older brother to respond. If Jason didn’t believe him, then Tim didn’t know what he’d do.
“Okay,” Jason said, running a hand down his face. “Okay, I’m not sure I’m convinced.” Tim’s hope dimmed. “But,” Jason added. “Even if there’s a chance that you are right, we can’t leave Bruce trapped in time.”
A small smile spread across Tim’s features. Jason pulled him into a side hug that quickly turned into a headlock. Jason dug his fist into Tim’s hair.
“Get off,” Tim yelled.
Jason let him go, and Tim stumbled with the quick release. Straightening up, Tim thanked Jason.
“You can thank me by helping me find Cass. If we’re going jet setting across the globe, someone needs to be around to make sure Dick doesn’t make any other asinine decisions.”
And this time, Dick’s name didn’t cause the same overwhelming fury. Even if he hadn’t forgiven the man yet, he didn’t want the man to sink into another deep depression.
“Alright fine,” Tim agreed.