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The packed-in crowd of reporters and officials four feet below Tim is in chaos, screams and pounding feet deafening even as Tim's hearing slowly comes back with a sharp ringing. He pushes himself up on his elbow, his cheek and knee throbbing from where he fell...was shoved...onto his side. Someone is suddenly grasping his elbow hard, pulling him to his feet, and he tries to pull away by reflex when he suddenly realizes it's the Commissioner, saying something urgently that Tim can't understand. Tim yanks his arm free, glancing around in a sudden burst of panic. Something's wrong, he knows that much. Something's very wrong.

"Damian!" The name rips out of Tim without much premeditation, and he's across the podium before the Commissioner can get more than halfway through a warning that he needs to get off the platform, they don't know what's going on or where the shooter is, it's clear Tim was the target—

Across the podium and on his knees beside his younger brother, who's on his back on the jet black carpet, small hands clamped over a large, bright crimson bloodstain that's starkly visible on his crisp, white dress shirt. His eyes are wide open and flit to Tim with all the terror of a wounded animal. Tim belatedly hears his choked, trembling gulps.

"Sshhh," he says clumsily, yanking his sport coat off and wadding it up into a messy ball. He snatches Damian's hands and tugs them away from the wound with some difficulty—it's in his torso, in his abdomen, God knows what's hit, what's bleeding—and presses down as hard as he can with the jacket. Damian yelps, his voice cracking on the high, agonized sound, and his eyes clench shut as he keens. Blood leaks out of the corner of his mouth, and when he parts his lips again to breathe, Tim can see more bubbling red welling up in his throat.

It's probably a bad idea, but Tim frees one hand, leaning down on the wound with his elbow, and slides his right hand into Damian's bangs, stroking his suddenly-sweaty hair back from his forehead. "Shhhh, Damian. I'm here, I've got you. You're gonna be fine. Just hang in there, alright?"

Damian's eyes open to slits, brows drawing together into a look Tim knows too well. Even with the obvious pain lines in Damian's forehead, the effect of his 'like hell' look is still pretty strong. But Tim still feels Damian's hands—they're small and hot and sticky with blood and sweat—slide shakily over his own and press down. Damian manages to unclench his jaw again, but when he tries to spit a scoffing remark, all that comes out is blood and a half-sob.

"Don't," Tim says, pleads, clenching his shaking hand in the jacket. "Just...just don't, Dames. Be quiet, shhhh."

At that instant, there's another loud crack, and Tim reflexively drops down over Damian, covering him as best he can. Damian's breaths are wet and fast beside his ear, and he hears more gunshots over the pounding of his heart. The first one was definitely from a rifle of some sort, not really silenced at all, but from a good bit away, probably somewhere to the right-hand side of the stage. The following and continuing shots are closer, coming from somewhere on the podium.

"D-Dra—" Damian chokes, very quiet and gurgling. His head bobs slightly, as if he's trying to lift it, look around. "Wha—"

Tim lightly presses Damian's head back down. "Lie still, Dames. We're being shot at again. I think." He raises his own head just the slightest bit, glancing around. He spots the Commissioner, who's just emerging from behind the cover of the podium and is running towards Tim and Damian, his pistol still in hand. He drops to his knees on Damian's other side. "An ambulance is six minutes away—there's a wreck blocking the road. How is he?"

Tim eases back and looks. Damian's eyes are shut.

"Dames," he whispers, breath refusing to come, moving his hand to his brother's shoulder and lightly shaking it. Nothing. His fingers fumble on Damian's neck, and he tries to concentrate and not give in to the all-consuming panic that's swimming through him, tries to keep his hand from shaking too badly to get a good feel. Damian's face is too pale and his skin is cold. He's so still that Tim's not sure whether he's breathing. His trembling fingers finally find the light, rapid thrump in Damian's throat, and Tim exhales hard in relief. His hand moves to Damian's chin, cupping it between two fingers. "Damian," he calls again, gently tilting the boy's head to the side. Damian's expression doesn't change except for a slight crease between his brows, and his lashes flutter twice before a glint of dull green becomes visible. Tim carefully tips his head again, and his eyes continue to focus on Tim.

"He's tracking, at least," he says to Gordon, but doesn't take his eyes off of Damian's face. Damian's eyes are glazed and faintly dimming, but there's an odd intensity in them that makes something in Tim's breath catch. He doesn't know why. Damian's staring at him like he's his last hope, like he's a lifeline, and Tim is so caught up in meeting the gaze that he almost jumps when Damian's ice cold fingers latch onto his sleeve with a spasming but desperate grip.

"Dr—" Damian gulps, more blood welling in his mouth. "T-Tim," he forces out, and Tim's blood runs cold. He leans in—he can barely hear Damian. The boy swallows thickly, whispers, "F-Father?"

Tim clenches his fist. He has no idea. Bruce is in Gotham, but this press conference was something Tim was going to deal with. He would have been on his own if Damian hadn't insisted on tagging along because he'd fought with Bruce again and was avoiding him. And it's only been maybe ten minutes at most since Damian was shot, he has no idea if Bruce has even heard yet, and the last thing he wants to do is yank his phone out and fumble with it when his younger brother is bleeding out under his hands, having likely saved him from being shot in the head. "I-I...I don't know, Damian," he says helplessly. The boy looks so small and so scared that he—irrationally—wants to pick him up and hold him until he calms down, but he knows he can't. He doesn't know whether the shot was a through-and-through, and moving Damian would likely only hurt him even more.

Tim can hear the sirens now, and he lifts his head for a brief moment to look. Three ambulances and at least ten police cars come hurtling into the parking lot. He looks back down at Damian. The boy's eyes are still just barely open, and there are tears glistening in them.

"I-I..." the word stutters, and Damian's voice is tiny and wheezing. "I-I'm scared, Drake."

Tim's heart breaks a little bit. A lot. He cards through Damian's bangs again, grabs for his hand still sprawled loose across his side and squeezes it. "Don't be. You'll be fine, you hear me?"

Damian bites his lip hard, but nods frantically, seeming to have heard the sirens. His hand is trembling faintly, but he squeezes back, tight. It doesn't seem like any time at all before the Commissioner is pulling Tim back and away from Damian as the boy is swarmed by paramedics. Tim can't see what's going on, can only hear a bunch of rapid discussion and scuffling noises as the paramedics unload supplies, and then he's being pulled even further away and he glances over in confusion when he sees another few EMTs. Two of them are half-carrying him towards a gurney. He has no idea where the Commissioner went. "What?" he asks, confused.

"You've been shot, Mr. Drake," one of them says, concerned, and Tim glances down in surprise and sees his shirtsleeve is torn at his upper arm and stained with blood all the way down to his wrist. Huh. He would have thought he'd have felt that.

The EMTs set him carefully in a gurney and he suddenly doesn't have the energy or brain power to struggle, slumps back against the bed. He instantly feels so tired that he wants nothing but to go home. But he's not going home. He's going to the hospital. He'd forgotten.

"Did..." he slurs, already half-asleep, blinking up at the oddly-dark shapes of the paramedics. "Did someone call my dad?"

"The Commissioner's taking care of it, Mr. Drake," someone assures him, and even though he's pretty sure they keep talking, that was about the only thing Tim cared about at the moment, so he tunes out the rest and closes his eyes.

He wakes up with a jolt of pain that has his teeth grinding together, and for a moment nothing makes sense. There's blue sky and people above him, and they're moving. He lifts his head a bit and sees what he thinks is Damian's gurney being pushed into the ER doors. He's not sure, though. He can't see much but a small, still shape, barely visible beneath an oxygen mask, a bunch of tubing, and a crowd of people. And then he's through the doors, too, and it's so loud it hurts his head. He clenches his eyes shut and tries not to clench his teeth shut, too---his dad always said that would lead to a ton of oral surgery later, and he has enough problems without that. His head hurts, almost as bad as that time he'd fallen on it off the side of a fire escape and been unconscious for five hours. Doesn't make much sense, though. He didn't think he'd hit his head earlier. Maybe it's just from trying to cope. It's easier to stay calm by ignoring everything that's going on. He hears people talking but they sound muffled, and he's occasionally being pinched and prodded and jostled, but he's tired, and he finds it fairly easy to lie still and let his mind tune out the noise.

At least until the point that a slightly nauseating movement has him drifting back towards the surface again, and the shouting drags him the rest of the way out. He raises his head with some difficulty, glancing around blearily. He sees people all over the place—they're in a hallway all of a sudden, he's pretty sure—but suddenly he sees someone pushing through a crowd of people and hurrying forward, yelling something Tim doesn't hear, but he also doesn't care. Bruce is here.

"Bruce—" he croaks, and Bruce stops instantly, his eyes huge as they seem to register Tim's presence. It only lasts a moment before his face loosens and all the air in his lungs seems to leave him in a rush, and he strides over right next to the gurney and pushes Tim's hair back. "Tim. Thank God," he breathes, sounding a bit winded. "What happened?"

Tim knows he's asking both as Bruce and as Batman, but he has no information either way. He shakes his head insistently. "I don't know. I was talking and everything seemed fine, but by the time I noticed the glint off the scope, Damian was hitting me in the shoulder and knocking me down. I didn't see any more after that." He gulps a bit at the memory. "He probably saved my life."

Bruce bites his lip, and looks a mix of proud and terrified. He glances up from Tim and at the nurses who were pushing his gurney, who are now standing, looking uncertain of how to react. "I don't know if you'll know anything because I'm assuming he got here earlier and has a separate team on his case, but do you have any information on my other son? Damian?"

There's a beat of silence. Tim knows how this goes—different wards handle different people, they don't answer questions without forms filled out and id's confirmed, patient-doctor confidentiality—

"...I think he's in surgery," one of the nurses says, hesitant. "I overheard some discussion when they were bringing them into the ER but I have no idea how he is or where he is."

Tim swallows, suddenly feeling nauseated. All he can think of is the fear on Damian's pale, sweaty face and how his hand was almost desperately gripping Tim's, his fingers spasming on occasion. If he's groggy and in pain, he can't imagine what sort of shape Damian is in.

Bruce glances at Tim, an apology in his face, but one look at Bruce’s eyes makes Tim’s stomach clench up in a knot. Bruce is terrified, and dying to run off and find Damian, and Tim doesn’t even have the energy to be jealous right now, because he’s half tempted to climb out of the gurney and go with him. Damian is younger than he is, Damian’s smaller, Damian’s hurt far worse than he is. “Go, B. I’ll be fine. Go find him. He needs you more than I do right now.”

Bruce squeezes Tim’s hand tight—Tim hadn’t realized he’d grabbed it—and presses a light kiss to his forehead, looks at him gratefully. “I called Dick on the way here. He’s on his way. I’ll send him to you,” Bruce assures him.

“Okay. Go.” Tim tries to muster a smile but gives Bruce a light, urgent shove. Bruce doesn’t need much encouraging. He almost runs down the hall and around a corner and disappears from sight.

Tim slumps back against the gurney now that Bruce is gone, exhales shakily. Why does he have to be aware, now? All he can think of is Damian. Bruce has got to be a nervous wreck; he’s already extremely sensitive to seeing people get shot, and for his youngest son to be shot, when he wasn’t there? Tim swallows bile and hopes to God that Damian’s alright. But the worry’s already there, and the thoughts don’t stop. He’d looked bad earlier, had probably lost at least two pints of blood before the ambulance got there. Children couldn’t maintain blood pressure for long once things went critical. That wasn’t even counting whatever damage was done to his innards, which could cause severe infections even if he’d made it to the hospital and if he makes it through surgery—

Tim clenches his eyes shut. He needs to stop thinking about this, now. He can’t think about Damian being dead. He can’t think about Bruce finding him just to be told he’d died in transport, or coded on the table. He can’t think about Damian being back there, stripped bare and bloody and all alone.

“Mr. Drake?” Someone says, and his eyes snap open. “Sorry,” he croaks, blinking rapidly.

“That’s alright, I’m sorry to bother you,” the nurse says. “I’m afraid most of the doctors are occupied right now, so my name is Isaac, I’m going to go ahead and hook you up to some monitors, get you some pain meds and antibiotics, and take care of sanitizing and stitching your wound for you. Is that alright?”

“Sure,” Tim replies, shutting his eyes again. Thank God for being an emancipated minor. It would suck if he had to wait till they sought out Bruce and got paperwork signed.

He feels the gurney being pushed somewhere, but keeps his eyes shut, mostly trying not to break down crying or freak out. He knows it’s probably inevitable—he’s already faintly shaking from adrenaline, and would probably be doing so for the foreseeable future—but hell, does he hate it. He hates his stress being on display for all these people, and word probably hasn’t even got out yet. Once the press catches word of this, things’ll get even worse.

Tim blinks his eyes open, and furrows his brows up at the seemingly-endless fluorescent lights rolling away on the ceiling. It’s quiet, and glancing back and forth tells him there’s no one else in the hallway. He starts to sit up, a question on the tip of his tongue.

He’s immediately thrown back into the gurney with enough force to knock the breath out of him, and he barely whips his hand up in time to catch the needle being thrust at him.

“Fuck!” he hisses almost involuntarily as he feels the needle jamming into his hand. “Help!” He roars, as loud as he can down the empty hallway. “Help—!”

The needle’s gone and a hand seizes a fistful of his hair, and then his head’s rammed into the railing of the bed with a loud thunk, and he sees stars. He slumps down, his vision fuzzing. Barely, he can see the syringe coming at him again, and now he thanks God for the adrenaline rush he’s still on, because only that has him fighting. His struggles are weak, but he curls in on himself as best he can, trying to at least cover his closer veins. The nurse’s hands are on him, but he squirms fiercely every time a limb’s pried out of the way, and he lashes out as best he can whenever possible. He hears a couple grunts, and he swears he at least clawed at his eye once—he heard a hiss but not much else, which makes his blood run cold. Who the hell is this guy?

Whoever he is, he finally manages to pin Tim down with one hand pressing his face to the mattress, and Tim, still cursing and thrashing, feels the needle starting to prick his neck.

“Stop! Get the hell off him!” He hears, slightly muffled, and then there’s another loud, shrill crack! right above him that makes him jolt, even as the nurse tumbles off of him and lands against the far wall with a thud, blood spurting from his shoulder. He doesn’t have time to recover before Dick is suddenly on him with a vengeance, ramming his head back against the wall and seizing his arm to twist behind him till his shoulder cracks. The man screams.

“Tim,” Dick says, and his voice is a broken, dangerous thing.

“He’s not a nurse,” Tim chokes, trying to roll to look at his older brother. His head is swimming and his eyelids are very heavy. “I don’t know who he is, but he’s not a nurse.”

Dick has the guy’s wrist wrenched even further to the side before Tim’s finished, the cracking noise growing louder. “Who the fuck are you,” Dick snarls, barely an inch away from the guy.

Tim hears footsteps running towards them, and tries to sit up, but can’t even get his elbow beneath him.

Faintly, he hears a choking noise, and something foaming? But then all he hears is Commissioner Gordon’s voice, and he sounds alarmed. “Dick!”

Tim barely hears the thud of a body hitting the floor, and then Dick’s cradling his face between his hands, the rims of his eyes red. “Tim!”

He smiles lazily. “Hey,” he says.

Dick’s instantly looking him over in a panic, but it’s Jim who says, “there!” and points to the needle mark in Tim’s neck.

“Shit, Tim.” Dick hisses tearfully, whips his hands back to Tim’s face. “Stay awake, you hear me?”

“Sure,” Tim slurs, and passes out.

__

 

Tim wakes up with a killer headache and promptly starts gagging the instant he tries to open his eyes.

Someone’s beside him right away and a hand guides his head over to the side and presses a plastic bag to his mouth. He empties whatever was left in his stomach without much pain or even awareness, more of a reflex than anything, and slumps when he’s done, shivering and dizzy as hell.

The hand rubs at his hair. “Spit,” Dick orders gently. He does, and Dick pulls the bag back, but the hand in his hair stays. “Is it hurting you for me to talk?” He asks, voice soft.

Tim shakes his head very lightly.

“Can you talk?”

“Maybe,” Tim forces out. His tongue feels swollen and barely moves when he orders it to. He lies there for a moment where he assumes Dick is letting him wake up a bit more, but he’s actually drifting again before he suddenly remembers what happened and his eyes flick open. “Damian?” He asks breathlessly.

Dick looks. Fucking exhausted, and Tim’s heart plummets to his numb toes. He has dark circles under his eyes to rival Bruce’s on a bad day and his expression is just this side of wrecked under the usual reassurance he seems incapable of not wearing around any of them. “In the PICU,” he says, forcing a lighter tone in a statement that sounds like he could barely get it out. “Bruce is with him.”

Tim swallows, a bit relieved at that. He drops his eyes to the edge of the bed and drunkenly mumbles, “Bet you wish you were, too,” before he can stop himself, and shit did he sound bitter and he should not have said that out loud.

Dick looks stunned for a split second, and Tim braces himself for anger...but Dick’s face crumples instead, and Tim wishes the mattress would swallow him. Dick doesn’t break down, doesn’t cry, doesn’t even tear up, but he doesn’t have to, and the strained smile he gives Tim looks ghoulish and makes Tim want to cry. “I’d like to be able to be two places at once,” he admits hoarsely.

“M’sorry,” Tim groans.

“I know,” Dick says, voice low and soft. “I get it. It’s okay.”

It’s not. Tim blinks hard a few times, trying to drag himself back to awareness. It’s not working so well. “What’s wrong with me?”

“Poison is what’s wrong with you,” Dick’s voice is dark. “That asshole would’ve killed you with that syringe if he’d managed to pump the whole thing in.”

Tim scrubs a hand—which he belatedly realizes has an IV in it—across his eyes. “Where is he?”

Dick drops his gaze to the floor. “Dead. He had some sort of poison on him. Foamed and seized to death. He did it himself.”

Tim feels very cold. That sort of thing did not happen often, and when it did, it meant the courier was really, really scared of whoever was on top. “You couldn’t stop him?” He slurs.

Dick meets his gaze, eyes hard. “I was busy.” He says deliberately.

Tim swallows, understanding what Dick’s saying. He can’t help but feel guilty—he’d kept Dick from getting any information out of this guy—but he dismisses the thought quickly. “He said his name was Isaac and he was a nurse,” he mumbles. “I don’t know if any of that was true.”

“No telling till we run the system,” Dick says. “O is already on it. Cassie’s on her way here.”

Tim feels both relieved and worried. He’ll be glad to see her, of course, but. “Is it…” he trails off, fixing Dick with a desperate look. “Is it that bad?”

Dick swallows, his adam’s apple jumping, and glances at the floor, hands knitted tightly together on his knee. “Damian’s hurt bad, Tim.” He says, and his voice cracks. “It wasn’t a clean hit by a long shot, and it tore through his intestines and his stomach before it got lodged further up. They tried to get it out, but he was too unstable and first priority was—was stopping the bleed. He coded twice in surgery and again after. Bruce...Bruce is a mess.”

Tim thinks he might throw up again, his empty stomach twisting. Dick goes on, “Alfred’s with him now, but of course he’s as upset as Bruce is, and there’s nothing he can do but be there for company. Bruce isn’t a flight risk; he’s not leaving Damian’s side for a good long while, but I still think it’ll help to have Cass here, too. We’ll probably all be here before it’s over with.”

Tim can’t look at Dick’s face. He clasps one hand in the paper-thin blanket covering him from the chest down loosely. “It’s my fault,” he rasps, barely audibly.

But of course, Dick still hears it. He raises his head from where he’d sunk it into his hands as he threaded his fingers through his hair. “What?” He asks, voice still messed up.

“He shoved me. The gunman was aiming for me,” Tim croaks, his voice going all froggy near-instantly and damnit he did not need to do this now. “I should have seen it and acted faster but I didn’t and now—“

Dick is reaching for him and Tim folds into the hug he’s pulled into even as he gulps, “He was so scared, Dick, the Commissioner had to pry me away because he was c-clutching my hand so hard. I told him he’d be fine and not to worry—“

“Shhh,” Dick says back, rubbing circles in Tim’s hospital gown. He’s still all croaky, but now he’s calm compared to Tim, like he always is when someone else is breaking down instead of him. “Shhhh. I know. It wasn’t your fault.”

It’s a painfully long time before Tim wears himself out enough that he stops shaking in Dick’s hold, and Dick feels like he can let go of him and ease him back down. Tim scrubs at the wet streaks on his face with the hem of the scratchy hospital blanket and takes a shuddering breath, settling on his side to think. Dick sits back in his chair in pensive quiet, so it’s a while before Tim opens his mouth and says, “I think this was a hit, but I don’t know who would do it.”

Dick blinks at him, confused. “I mean, I agree it was a hit, but specifically for you, or just us in general?”

“Me.” Tim says confidently. “They tried to have me shot at the press conference. Damian,” his voice shakes just a bit on his name, “was a mistake. That’s why they tried again with the plant here.”

Dick frowned. “Why not try again now?”

“Because too many of you are here, now.” Tim says. “B, Alfred, you, the Commissioner, Cass on her way? For all we know Clark and Diana could be here by the end of the day.”

Dick sits up straight now, looking more alert. His voice dips. “Are you saying,” he glances around, both nervously and fiercely, “that whoever this is knows our identities?”

Tim gulps. “It sounds like it. Or at least knows mine. There’s more of a chance of killing me without interruption when I’m not surrounded with people. Hell, Damian wasn’t even supposed to be there, earlier. He only tagged along last minute.”

Dick frowns, looks like the wheels are cranking in his head. “So who does that put us with?”

Tim shrugs uncomfortably. “That’s the problem,” he says. “None of this was really unique enough to tie it to anyone specific. I mean, nearly anyone can shoot at me from nearby and I can think of at least three mob bosses capable of putting a plant at the hospital. But of course...they don’t know my identity so far as I know…”

Dick narrows his eyes. “You know three whose plants would choke themselves on a cyanide pill rather than be questioned?”

Tim winces. “No.” He admits. He shrugs, very lightly. It still pulls on his injured arm and hurts. “I really don’t know, Dick.” He admits, very quietly. “I have no idea who did this.” He glances down at the floor, ashamed.

Dick leans forward in his chair and brushes a hand over Tim’s head comfortingly. “It’s alright. You’ve had a hell of a day. So long as no one tries again, it doesn’t matter for the moment, anyway. And I don’t intend to let anyone else try it.”

Tim grins weakly at that. “Alrighty then, Terminator.”

Dick playfully rubs his head hard enough to leave his hair askew.

__

 

Tim didn’t intend to fall asleep, but when he very suddenly wakes up later, the lights are dimmed and the beeping of the heart monitor is turned down a bit. He shifts slightly in the bed and takes a deep breath, bringing a hand up to rub at his aching eyes.

He nearly falls off the bed when he scrambles backwards in surprise. Someone’s sitting in the chair beside his bed, a tall, dark figure hunched over. It’s not Dick.

“Jason?” Tim says, in disbelief at first.

“Man, you are out of it,” Jason’s voice sounds….bad. Husky, raw. Like he’s either screamed himself hoarse today, or is really, really trying not to. “That guy really did a number on you, eh?”

Tim shrugs uncomfortably, glancing up at the IV bag of whatever antidote they’d given him. It’s getting on to empty, and he definitely feels better now, but it’s still kind of terrifying in his recent memory. “Where’s Dick?” Tim asks.

“What, don’t like sitting alone in a room with me?” Jason’s cruel grin is just this side of deranged. “Scared of take three on the murdering attempt?”

Tim very deliberately doesn’t react, and Jason laughs awkwardly to himself for only a second or two before he deflates. “I told him to go upstairs and see Damian,” he mutters. “He was dying to, I know, but he wasn’t gonna leave you unprotected. I said I’d watch out for you while he went.”

Tim sighs a bit, very softly. That’s good. That sounds like Dick will come back after he’s done. But he’s only more concerned. “What about Cass?” He asks.

“Cass is here. She’s upstairs.” Jason jabs a thumb up toward the ceiling. “With Damian and B and all them.”

Tim swallows. “How is he?”

“Sedated coma,” Jason says dully. “They’re gonna give it twelve hours and try surgery again if he stays where he’s at the whole time.”

Tim winces. That’s not good. And Jason is just coming off...wrong. He hasn’t seen the guy in nearly six months, so it could just be the shock of him being here, but he’s acting very subdued and very jagged with grief, almost...stunned? Hurt?

“...You alright?” Tim ventures very hesitantly. It gets him a glint of green in the dark as Jason straightens and meets his eyes, shocked. He laughs again, one of those broken, short ones that sounds like hell. “I that much of a basket case to you?”

Tim says nothing, and Jason deflates again startlingly quickly. “M’fine,” he grunts, empty again.

Tim squints closer at him. Jason’s steepled hands on his knees are cut to hell, and his jeans are dirty. His leather jacket is zipped despite it not being cold in the room, and the stiff way he’s holding himself suggests he’s hiding injuries of some kind under it. His face is all bruised up, too, the beginnings of a nasty shiner already showing on his cheekbone.

“What happened to you?” Tim asks, and Jason glances up at him again, looking surprisingly vulnerable as he drops his gaze again immediately. He gives another one of those damned broken laughs. “Big brother’s been out hunting, Timother. I found your little bitch of a shooter.”

Tim’s eyes are huge. “You did?”

Jason nods casually, fiddles with his hands and doesn’t look at Tim. “I did.”

“Where is he?” Tim asks.

Jason’s voice goes hard. “At the bottom of the fucking river. Where do you think he fucking is?”

Tim winces at that. He knows he should have expected it, but it’s still more than a little like being punched in the gut. And not just because it’s Jason. Sitting in the room with anyone when they’ve just killed a person is like this. Death has a way of just stealing all the air from the space between them. Tim’s glad he doesn’t have to prompt, because Jason rambles on.

“I tracked that son of a bitch down. Was easier than it should’ve been. Good old Commish hit him, once in the arm and once in the side. He couldn’t make his escape. I gave him more than that to worry about. Cut him up good. Shot him a few more times for good measure, too. I called it in, but that—“ Jason laughs. “That asshole jumped off the barrier wall and into the Bay. They’ll probably drag for his corpse in the morning.”

Tim‘s chilled. This guy had killed himself, too? “The cops couldn’t get there?”

Jason snorts derisively. “Sure they did,” he grits. “Commish came himself with a whole squad. Course he did, I called it in and told ‘em I had the Wayne shooter. The guy threw himself off in front of them. They shot down there a few times, but he disappeared fast.”

“Damn.” Tim sinks back into the bed, disappointed. “No chance of interrogating, then.”

At that, Jason laughs again, but this one is somehow worse and more borderline hysterical and viciously angry than any of the ones before. It makes Tim stiffen. “They didn’t have to. Wouldn’t have done them any good, anyway. He’s League.”

Tim freezes. “What.”

“He’s League,” Jason says again, brokenly. “I know ‘em when I see ‘em. One of Ra’s puppets if I know anything.”

Tim inhales shakily. “So it was Ra’s trying to kill me?”

“Either him or Talia,” Jason shrugs bitterly.

“But...but why at a press conference? Why not at home?”

Jason scoffs. “Because at home you’re surrounded by Batman and Robin and five other vigilantes at any given time.”

“Not on patrol!” Tim insists. “Not during the day! Why now of all times?”

“Because you were out in the open and unprotected.” Jason drawls. “It seemed like a good time to succeed quickly and run. Not too many problems, in and out easy.” Jason’s expression was dark. “That was until Damian intervened.”

It made sense. It made too much sense. And it made Tim feel sick to his stomach again. “Damian knows their strategies,” he says faintly, almost to himself. “Which is why he spotted the shooter before I did.”

Jason nods grimly.

Tim swallows shakily, but he doesn’t have much time to really lose it, because someone taps lightly at the door.

Jason sits up straight and is on his feet quickly, opening the door to a slit and looking through. Then he steps back and opens it all the way for...Cass and Dick.

“Cassie,” Tim says, and his older sister comes right forward and hugs him tight, avoiding his bad arm. Tim returns the hug just as hard back. Of course the circumstances suck, but he misses seeing her. It’s not like they’re estranged or anything, but with her working with Babs and Steph out of the Clocktower half the time, and Tim working paired with one of the others the rest, sometimes it feels like he hardly sees her anymore.

“Okay?” Cass asks, gently patting his good shoulder.

“Mostly,” he forces a strained smile for her. He glances up at Dick. “Hey.”

The edges of Dick’s lips twitch up just slightly for a second, but overall, he does not look good, and Tim’s heart sinks. Jason, surprisingly, didn’t disappear as he let the others in, but he steps back against the wall and folds his arms across his chest defensively, hunching over. Dick sinks into the chair Jason had been sitting in, head in his hands. Cassandra sits on the edge of the bed with Tim.

“How’s the brat?” Jason asks, subdued. Tim winces. He was wondering the same, but he wouldn’t have worded it like that.

Dick doesn’t even react much. Shrugs, as if even that small motion is too much work. “Blood pressure still hasn’t come up. They're giving him another transfusion. It's going in now, and if it does come back up, they’ll take him back into surgery at 5:00.” Dick glances at his watch.

“It’s 2:00?” Tim groans, glancing for the first time at the digital clock in the room.

“That’s right,” Jason snickers. “You of all people do not get to complain about being up at this time of the morning.”

Cass shoots a reprimanding look at Jason, who to his credit looks cowed. “Hush,” she says, holding Tim’s hand. “Little brother had rough day.”

Jason reshuffles against the wall and ducks his head in acknowledgement. Dick half sits up, glances over his shoulder at him. “Thanks for staying with Tim for me, Jase.”

“Of course I did. What was I gonna do, leave him here to get his ass killed?” Most of the ire sounds habitual. Dick takes it in stride. “Still.” He says.

Jason shrugs, looking uncomfortable. “Whatever.”

___

 

Tim sleeps some more—he’s pretty sure the others do the same, Cass snuggled up against him in the bed, legs folded up under her, Dick in the chair, Jason standing against the wall, which can’t be comfortable. In the morning, the nurse who’s come to check on him every hour comes in and checks his vitals again, and tells him his doctor will be in to look him over in an hour or so. She leaves with a sympathetic glance at the others, whose late night is obvious on all of them. Dick and Jason leave to try and find some food and maybe coffee, and Cass sits with Tim. They hold hands and don’t talk much. Dick and Jason come back with a few sad, wilty breakfast burritos before the doctor comes in. He tells Tim that now that his gunshot wound’s been treated and stitched and dressed, and his vitals have stabilized and the poison symptoms have passed, he’s safe to be discharged. He gives him a sheet with a list of symptoms and warns him to come right back if he has any complications, gives Tim a prescription to fill for painkillers and antibiotics, and leaves him to his siblings with strict instructions to feed him a high-iron diet for the next couple days. Jason brought him a change of clothes and once he’s dressed, they take him upstairs to see Bruce and Alfred. They take the elevator together so Tim doesn’t have to climb the stairs. It feels weird to be back on his feet, even a day later.

They wind up in an OR waiting room, which is nearly empty aside from Bruce, slumped over in a chair with his elbow propped on the plastic arm, and Alfred, who’s seated ramrod straight on a bench across from him.

“B.” Dick crosses the room first and Bruce sits up as if woken from a daze to return his half-hug, glancing behind him at the rest of his children huddled awkwardly together. “Tim,” he says first.

Tim steps up in front of Jason and Cass and ducks his head. “Hey,” he says. He feels like he’s in trouble, even though that doesn’t make sense.

Bruce just eyes him up and down, like he doesn’t trust the others telling him Tim’s fine. “You feel alright?” He asks.

Tim shrugs. “Not really,” he grits, with a tight grin.

Bruce opens his arms a little, and Tim ducks into them and holds tight to Bruce’s rumpled button-down. “I’m sorry, B, I’m so sorry—“

“Don’t be,” Bruce tells him, calm as can be, smoothing a hand over Tim’s messy hair. “It’s not your fault.”

He’s not in a hurry to release Tim, but Tim feels him glancing up and behind him while still embracing him, and he has the sneaking feeling that Jason’s the one under the gun this time. Sure enough, when Bruce does let him go, he says, “Jason,” in that weird strained-soft way he always seems to say his name.

Tim steals a glance at the older boy and sees him shrug at Bruce, hands tucked out of sight in his jacket pockets, stance awkward and slightly hunched. He’s deliberately avoiding meeting Bruce’s eyes.

“Jim told me that Red Hood found the shooter,” Bruce says. “Good work, Jay.”

Jason shrugs again, his mouth twisting.

“Are you alright?” Bruce asks, and Jason huffs a breath. “M’fine.” He mutters.

Bruce eyes Jason’s jacket and Tim knows he doesn’t buy it for a second. But he doesn’t push it, either. “The surgeon said he’d come out when they were done,” Bruce changes subjects. “I don’t know if we’ll get to see him or not.”

Jason shrugs and promptly takes a seat. The rest of them eventually follow his lead and settle in to wait.

By the time the surgeon does come out, Jason’s slumped over asleep against the armrest of Alfred’s chair, and the rest of them are similarly piled. Tim and Cass are taking turns playing a game on Cass’s phone, Dick’s staring at the ceiling, and Bruce’s hunched over with his elbows on his knees. He stands up when the surgeon comes, though.

“No coding this time,” he says, tired but relieved. “We got the bullet without too much trouble. Hopefully now that the wound’s fixed up and we can leave him alone he’ll have some time for the swelling to come down. There’s always a chance for further complications, but we’ll keep him sedated and on antibiotics for the next couple days to give him a chance to heal up.”

Bruce nods, exhales roughly. “That’s good to hear. Thank you.”

The surgeon nods. “Of course. He’ll probably still be in intensive care for the next few days, but I feel much better about his chances, now. If you wanted to send some of the kids home to rest, I think it’s safe to do that.”

“Thank you, Doctor.” Bruce says, and they shake hands. The surgeon leaves again, and Bruce turns back to the others. “I think it’s safe to say Jay should go home,” he says softly, glancing at the tall form folded over a bench chair and half-slumped against Alfred’s arm, wheezing softly in his sleep.

“Who’s gonna wake him, though?” Tim asks. He’s not eager to volunteer.

Bruce starts to cross the room carefully, but Cass removes her earbud and beats him to it, crouching beside Jason and gently shaking his arm. “Jason. Wake up, little brother.”

Jason stiffens when she touches him, and then flinches and tenses, hunching in on himself again with a low groan. The way he’s clutching at himself screams injury, and Bruce sees it and is behind Cass in an instant. “Jay?” He says, and Jason’s eyes crack open blearily. “Wha’,” he slurs, and Bruce shoots an intense look at him, and at his still-zipped jacket. Tim braces for a fight, but Jason exhales defeatedly and unzips it stiffly.

Tim catches his breath at the sight of the shredded tee Jason’s wearing beneath it, bloodstained and dirty. There’s clumsy bandages visible beneath, and medical tape barely sticking because his skin was bloody when he applied it. It looks like someone stabbed and slashed him a hundred times all over the surface of his chest and stomach. It also looks like someone bludgeoned him with something, because there’s a huge, black and purple bruise on his right side. Hence the wheezing.

“Jason, what the hell—“ Dick is halfway out of his seat.

“Jay-lad,” Bruce groans, and it’s enough to silence the rest of them. Jason stiffens, but flinches again and sighs, letting the tension go out of his body and leaning slightly to one side. Maybe it hurts less that way. “What,” he mumbles, staring firmly at the tiled floor.

“Why didn’t you say anything?” Bruce asks, his face and voice as pained as if he were the one beaten. Jason lifts one shoulder very slightly. “We were busy,” he says dully. “Don’t need one more person to worry about.”

Bruce winces, but before he can say anything, Cass speaks. “We do. Worry.” She sounds angry in a hurt way, too. As hurt as he feels, but angrier than he is. At least, angrier than he is at anyone other than himself. “We will. Always.”

Jason just sits and breathes listlessly, like he’s waiting for them to give up and leave him alone, ignore his hurts like he does.

“Jason,” Bruce pushes gently past Cass and leans in so that he’s kneeling in Jason’s line of sight. With a soft, put-upon sigh, Jason meets his gaze. “We’re not busy now. Please, get this treated. I don’t care if you go home to do it, but you need to take care of yourself. Alright?”

Jason just sits, and Bruce lays a very gentle hand on his knee. “Jay?”

Jason takes a rattling breath. “Don’t wanna.”

“I know you don’t,” Bruce replies, still soft. “But you need to. I’ll go with you if you want. Or I won’t if you want and you can take one of your siblings. But please, Jason, take care of it. Don’t just sit and let it fester because you think you deserve it, okay? Or because you can handle it. I know you can. We all do. But you don’t have to.”

Jason takes a shivery breath. The others wait quietly and pretend not to be watching and listening attentively.

Jason exhales. “I’ll let Dick take me downstairs,” he mumbles sullenly.

Bruce very lightly rubs his upper arm. “Okay.” He leans in and presses a kiss to Jason’s temple. “Thank you.”

“Sure,” Jason sighs, getting stiffly to his feet. Dick stood up without a word and now comes beside him, and the two of them fall into step together and disappear down the hallway.

___

 

Tim goes home with Alfred and Cass. Before they head to the Manor, they stop in downstairs to check on Jason. They decided to keep him overnight due to the bludgeoned side. His ribs were broken pretty badly there, so he was on oxygen and instructed to lie still for the rest of the evening. He doesn’t sit up when they duck in, and doesn’t say much, but watches everyone closely with bright, half-lidded eyes even while lying half-reclined on the gurney. Dick sits in the chair at his bedside, clearly tired, too, but still adamant about sticking with him.

“Get some sleep, Master Jason,” Alfred tells him, patting his head gently. Jason blinks and offers a very faint smile, but doesn’t say anything in response as Alfred steps back. “We shall see you in the morning.”

Cass carefully shoves her way to the front. “Bye Jason,” she says, and very solemnly kisses him on the nose. Jason scrunches his face up a bit, but smiles a bit more, still quiet. Cass hugs Dick quickly, and moves back.

Tim awkwardly waves at Jason. He awkwardly waves back without lifting his hand from the bed, and promptly lets his eyes roll up to the ceiling and stay there. Tim hugs Dick, and leans his head against his big brother’s shoulder for just a moment, breathes and tries to rally himself for the drive home and the week to come.

He lets go after a moment and Dick smiles, already seeming to be in better spirits knowing that Damian’s not in surgery and making some progress away from critical.

“We’ll see you two tomorrow,” Tim says.

“Yeah,” Dick sighs, settling back in the chair. Jason seems to be going downhill fast and is nearly asleep already. “See you in the morning.”

___

 

The next morning, Tim and Alfred come back and find Bruce, who’s back in a chair in the ICU waiting room like it’s reserved for him. When he sees them, he manages a smile. He looks exhausted, but he stands up. “He’s still sedated, but they’re letting two of us in to see him at a time.” He looks at Tim. “Would you like to come with me?”

Tim does want to come with him. But he’s not sure how to explain the nervousness and awkwardness the question brings. He and Damian are far from the best of friends at any given time—hell, they barely tolerate each other as step brothers most of the time. But the last time he saw him was awful, and he owes him. So he nods, and Bruce leads the way through the closed doors and down the hallway, a large, warm arm wrapped around Tim.

There’s a nurse on duty in Damian’s room when they stop outside the window. Tim swallows hard, oddly unwilling to look at Damian. But eventually he has to, and his stomach clenches uncomfortably when he sees him, tiny and still and on a vent to help him rest. He still looks a few shades paler than his usual warm brown skin tone, and he’s barely-clothed in an ugly colored hospital gown. Hardly any of his face is visible, but the lack of a scowl on his features is so wrong it immediately snaps Tim out of any misconceptions of how bad this is, this was.

Bruce is standing, just looking at Damian, and it makes something in Tim’s stomach knot up. He’s been so jealous of that expression on Bruce’s face, before; the protective, fatherly look. The love in it. He always felt it was different from what he got.

But now he realizes that it’s not because Bruce loves Damian more. It’s just because Damian is smaller. It’s a different kind of love. Damian is younger than any of them were when they first met Bruce. He’s still so young. So young that he still needs a different kind of love than the rest of them do. They’ll always need Bruce, but not to protect them, eventually. Eventually they’re old enough to take care of themselves. But until then, Bruce was there. And he knows that Bruce probably feels he failed on that part in this instance.

The nurse comes out of Damian’s room and nods at Tim and Bruce. “Busy morning in here,” she says. “His mom was in earlier.”

Tim blanches, and Bruce’s face turns very still. “When,” He rumbles, voice even but sharp.

“...She just got out before you came in,” the nurse says hesitantly, taken aback, doubtless wondering whether she should’ve said anything. Bruce pivots and is hurrying down the hall, and Tim, worried, runs after him.

Bruce shoves open the ICU doors and makes for the stairwell. Tim follows as Bruce runs full-pelt down the stairs. The two of them come scattering out of the stairwell at the ground floor and wind up face-to-face with Talia. She’s standing outside the gift shop, sipping a luxury coffee and looking nonplussed.

“Beloved,” she says quietly. She swishes her coffee in its paper cup. Her fingernails are blood red.

“What the hell are you doing here,” Bruce snarls at her, and Tim eyes him nervously. He understands why Bruce is pissed, but they are in a hospital and people are already shooting glances at him.

Talia’s lips thin, just slightly. “I am here to see my child, Beloved. He is hurt. Do you expect me to leave him abandoned in hospital?”

“It wouldn’t be the first time,” Bruce grits, vicious, and Tim blinks in shock.

Talia, for her part, looks unaffected. “And you wouldn’t know anything about that, my love. Or was he not harmed because you’d upset him?”

Bruce half-lunges before Tim realizes he moved. He’s barely inches from Talia, who still doesn’t change expressions. “You have no right,” Bruce breathes. “None, to come near our son. You abandoned him. Were you sitting in a waiting room or by his bedside for the last two days? No. You left him like a discarded toy at my doorstep. Did you even go in and see him? Touch him? He cries for you regularly, even at home. In his sleep, because he knows calling when he’s awake is a waste of breath. I may not be a perfect father to him, Talia, but I don’t have to be to be a better parent than you. You knew, didn’t you? You knew that Ra’s was going to try to kill Tim.” Bruce’s voice shakes, with rage and something else Tim doesn’t dare consider. “My son, Tim.”

Talia’s green eyes are very still. She stares unblinking at Bruce’s red-rimmed grey eyes, then at his lips.

“Don’t lie to me,” Bruce rasps. “You know I know the truth.”

Talia’s lashes dip, acknowledging. “Father made this decision without my consent,” she finally says, voice quiet, even. “He has grown mad with rage and vengeance towards Timothy. He no longer listens to me, or to anyone on the matter. But he is too coward to come and do the deed himself, and risk the consequences of having your full vengeance fall upon him. Yours and Richard’s alone are enough to dissuade him.”

She glances back at Tim for the first time in the conversation, and Tim freezes under the force of her stare. “I. I did not expect that Damian would try to intervene. I especially did not expect him to intervene as he did.”

“And you. What? Came to try and interrogate him on his reasoning?” Bruce says. His voice is a ragged and broken thing. Tim wants to cry hearing it. “He’s unconscious. Practically comatose, thanks to your father. He will be bedridden for months, Talia. Maybe more.”

Talia isn’t meeting his eyes anymore.

“You’ve let him steal months of your son’s life. Months he’ll never get back. Months where he’ll have to recover. He’ll heal, but his body will never be the same and you know it. Your father almost killed him. He would have killed Tim. He put Jason in the hospital, too.” Bruce’s voice shook again. “He’s still admitted right now.”

Talia blinks very softly. “I am aware, Bruce.”

Bruce clenches his eyes shut, and turns his back on her. He leans against the wall, forehead resting against his fist, and Tim is reminded of how long he’s been awake, how long he’s been sitting vigil in the hospital. How awful these last forty-eight hours have been for him. Talia is just the icing on the cake. “Please,” Bruce says, and Tim isn’t sure he isn’t crying. Tears of sorrow and desperation and heartbreak. “Please just leave, Talia. Leave us alone.”

A pause. Tim is swallowing tears of his own.

“As you wish, Beloved.” Talia breathes, barely audible. And she turns without another word, the clacking of her heels on the marble floor the only sound as she disappears from sight.

Tim waits a moment, and then crosses the distance between himself and Bruce and very gently puts a hand on his dad’s shoulder. Bruce stirs, lifts his head to look at Tim with bleary eyes.

Tim hugs him. “I’m sorry, B. I’m sorry for all of this.” His voice breaks.

Bruce hugs him back, hard. Like he’s a lifeline, and as long as he lives, Tim will never stop feeling lucky that he can be this for Batman. That he can hold Batman up like he holds Gotham up. That he can hold Bruce up like he holds up everyone around him.

___

 

Jason, as it turns out, had figured out Talia was in the hospital and was equally pissed. He threw her out when she came by, with Dick’s enthusiastic help.

“If anyone could get Dickie to hurt a woman, Talia would be on thin fucking ice,” Jason tells Tim hoarsely when Tim and Bruce stop to check in on him. He’s still got an oxygen cannula in his nose, and still seems subdued and weak, but anger always makes him seem more like himself.

Dick looks even more exhausted than before, and Bruce immediately calls Alfred to come and pick him up and take him home for a break. He puts a hand on Dick’s shoulder and talks to him in a very low voice, hunched over in the corner. When Alfred comes, Dick goes willingly with him. Jason ribs him gently but quietly thanks him for staying and berates him for running on fumes. Dick leaves with a weak grin still on his face.

Jason eventually is discharged as well, and heads home in a wheelchair with a whole load of painkiller prescriptions. Eventually they’re down to just Damian in the hospital.

And then Damian finally wakes up. Four days after the shooting, the hospital calls and tells Bruce he’s responsive and even lucid, considering his injuries.

Bruce drives over immediately, and Tim winds up riding shotgun. They walk at a brisk pace, almost a run, down the familiar hallways. 

There's a pair of cops waiting outside Damian's room when they get there, doubtless waiting to question him about the shooting. Bruce and Tim barrel right past them and Tim barely acknowledges their presence with a half-nod, too preoccupied with rushing.

Damian is squinting blearily when they burst into the room. He’s lying flat against his bed, eyes half-open, on oxygen and with IVs sticking out of him. There’s a heart monitor node stuck to his bare chest, and he’s still quite pale, the sheet he’s covered with veritably flushed compared with his face.

He’s halfway through a weak “Tt” when they come in and Tim wants to burst out crying.

Damian stiffens in the bed. “Father..?” He whispers, voice croaky from disuse.

Bruce is next to him in a breath, hand hovering over his small head. “Damian,” he says, voice very soft.

“I’m.” Damian’s eyes are downcast. “I’m sorry I refused to read my English literature homework.”

Bruce freezes. Then he laughs, hysterically and relieved. The cops outside look like they’re recovering from instantaneous heart attacks. Damian’s eyes are huge and concerned. Bruce claps a hand over his mouth and keeps laughing, and stroking Damian’s hair with his other hand.

And then Damian’s eyes land on Tim, and he gasps very quietly. “Drake,” he whispers.

Tim steps forward, hesitant. He doesn’t know how much Damian remembers, or knows about what happened.

Damian tries to push himself up on his elbow, his tiny wired hand scrabbling clumsily against the rails of the bed. “Are you uninjured, Drake?” He asks breathlessly, not really succeeding at getting upright at all.

Tim’s lips part on a shaky breath. “Am? Am I?”

“Yes, imbecile, that is what I inquired,” Damian flaps a hand dismissively, and the cops jaws drop. Tim’s dimly pretty sure that at this point they could record this and make another Wayne family fortune selling it as a soap opera to the Gotham Police Department.

And Tim elbows in next to Bruce and hugs the little gremlin. He can’t reach much of him, and can’t get his arms all the way around him, but who the hell cares. “You jerkass brat,” he sniffles at his stupid little step brother. “I hate you so much.”

Damian flaps his arms helplessly in shock at first, but then he smiles against Tim’s shoulder. “Clearly the feeling is mutual, Drake.”