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Liminal Space

Chapter Text

Tim’s fingers stuttered across the keyboard, the only betrayal of his surprise. It was a small sign, though Tim had no doubt that it had been caught and Tim was being evaluated based on it, based on everything could be seen in here, and Tim would yet again be found wanting.

The safe house was lacking and in poor taste. An abandoned restaurant from when Falcone had been top dog, there was a basement that didn’t exist on any blueprint filled with concrete rooms that had drains in the floor and eye screws in the ceiling. Tim had claimed the one furthest from the trapdoor that lead up into the restaurant as his own by virtue of it having an old power generator inside, moving in just the very basics: a mattress, a mini-fridge, a computer and a workbench. It wasn’t comfortable like a hotel would be, but Tim had craved the security more than comfort and with only one entrance it theoretically should have been possible for Tim to set up a kickass warning system so he could secure the room before anyone even found the basement.

Given that Batman had found his way in, that theory was rapidly falling apart.

Tim bit back a sigh. He’d planned on getting a few hours of sleep after he’d finished responding to Lucius’s emails, proving to the man that despite his days of silence Tim was indeed alive. It looked like instead he’d be either upgrading his security or moving his things to a new temporary safe house. If Batman could get in, Damian or Jason could get in and that would lead to Tim waking up dead.

“Are you hurt?” Batman asked, concern painting his tone.

Tim's hands froze. He couldn't remember the last time Batman had asked him that. Before Bruce had fallen through time. Probably before Damian had appeared. And even then the question had always been loaded, more about Batman cataloguing Tim’s failures than inquiring about his health.

Batman didn't bother to record Tim's failures anymore. Him almost killing Captain Boomerang had cemented Tim as the black sheep of the family. Not that Tim had ever been family. Whatever. The point was that now Batman only watched Tim to see if he left behind a trail of corpses, which, considering Jason and Damian, was actually kind of hilarious in the most fucked up sense. If Kon and Bart had survived, it was something they would have laughed over together.

Tim pushed the dead aside and tried to focus on the problem at hand. Why was Batman here? The three most likely options were that: Batman was legitimately worried about Tim, Batman wanted to reprimand Red Robin, or Tim was hallucinating because even he could only go without sleep for so long. The first was a manifestation of Tim’s fantasies, not a reflection of any possible reality. He judged himself for even bringing it up as an option. The third would explain both the concerned tone and the lack of alarms, but until the second theory was dismissed Tim would assume it to be true. Better to be cautious with hallucination Batman than overshare with the real thing.

“I'm fine.”

“The Riddler held you for days.” The amount of concern once again hinted at hallucination. Unless the concern was that Tim was off his game. Maybe he was about to be benched?

Caffeine. Whatever “this” was, it called for caffeine. Tim kicked back from the table where he'd set up the computer, his chair rolling to the mini fridge. He pulled out a canned coffee, his last canned coffee, with a frown. He was sure that he was supposed to have more left than that. He added grabbing more to the list.

He cracked the can open and the sound echoed in the concrete room. He could feel Batman's judgement as he downed the can. It seemed to intensify as he tossed the can into the makeshift recycling he’d set up.

“I'm fine.” It had been three days in a cage with no food, no sleep, and a guard with a juiced-up stock prod for company. Tim was just supposed to be the climax in the Riddler's latest brain measuring contest against Batman. It had been an annoying experience, and a bit embarrassing, but Tim still had all his organs, he'd escaped on his own and he'd dropped the Riddler off with Gordon a few hours ago, so it counted as a win.

“Catwoman said you were bleeding.”

Fuck Selina and whatever the fuck her relationship with Bruce was. She wasn't Robin's mom and, even if she was by some fucked up logic, Tim was no longer Robin. They’d merely passed each other as Tim made his way back to his safe house. She hadn't even spoken to him, just done the patented vigilante nod of acknowledgement before swinging their separate ways into the night. Apparently her way was of to find Bruce so they could gossip about Tim's latest fuck up.

“I'm fine.”

Tim could feel the Batman's eyes trying to stare through his armor. Tim strategically drummed his hand on his thigh, effecting annoyance while hiding a fresh stab wound he'd hastily glued shut instead of stitching. “You're too-”

“Too what? Reckless?” Tim's smile was all teeth, daring Batman to have that conversation with the Robin who only signed up to prevent Batman from beating people to death.

“Thin.”

Tim blinked. Then blinked again. “Oh. Damn.” He rubbed his eyes, regretting the coffee.

“Oh?” Batman asked cautiously.

Tim waved a hand dismissively. “You just confirmed that you are a sleep deprivation hallucination.”

“Oh?” And this time there was an edge, like hallucination Batman was pissed. This hallucination was far more emotive than real Batman.

“You are inquiring about my health and only my health.” Tim scrubbed a hand through his hair, thinking. “Why am I subconsciously concerned about my health?”

“When was the last time you ate?”

“Four days ago.” Before the whole Riddler thing. “I had a sandwich.” Which wasn't a lot but the human body could go a month without food before dying. “I'll need to grab something tomorrow on the way to the office.”

“You're planning on going to work tomorrow?” Hallucination Batman crossed his arms in disapproval.

Tim pointed at himself. “CEO of Wayne Enterprises.” He hummed. “If I'm hallucinating this vividly I'll need to limit it to a half day and get some sleep. The board wouldn't be pleased to see me talking to thin air.”

“You could go to the Manor. Alfred would feed you.”

“He would,” Tim sighed wistfully. “But everyone has made it pretty clear that I'm not welcome back.” He ran a hand through his hair again. “I've fulfilled my role as replacement Robin, now that Bruce's real son has taken up the mantle. Dick discarded me, Damian is still trying to kill me, and after I nearly killed Captain Boomerang I'm pretty sure that Bruce has me on a Justice League watch list of potential supervillains. He's going to distance himself so when I do go bad he can,” Tim held up finger quotes as he dropped his voice into an imitation of Batman's, ““do what needs to be done.”” He snorted derisively. “Maybe I should just throw myself off of Gotham Arms. At the very least I'd never have to listen to Ra's talk about having my babies again.”

Hallucination Batman had gone very still and very stiff. “Ra's Al Ghul wants to have your children.”

“Yes.”

“And you are living outside the Manor.”

“Yes.”

“And Batman has disowned you for attempting to kill the man who murdered your father.”

“None of this is repressed information.”

“And you are having suicidal thoughts.”

Tim chewed his lips. Was he really? He'd just joked about jumping off of the tallest building in Gotham, but did he have the urge to actually do it? He spun on the chair as he gave it some thought. His friends were either dead or resented his presence in their lives. Ditto with his family. He still had his villain hit list that he needed to finish up, but when that was done…. then what? A flash of him holding his dad's gun flickered through his brain.

“Okay,” he said to hallucination Batman. “That's a revelation, but I don't think it is urgent. I've got a few months to work through the list so until then I can hold steady.”

“Hold steady.” The man's tone was flat and unimpressed.

“If it gets worse I'll follow up,” he promised his subconscious. “And since I think that was the revelation my brain needed to have, I'm going to finish my emails to Lucius and get some sleep.” He kicked off of the mini fridge and rolled back to the desk, sliding back to the computer in one smooth motion. He read over what he'd already typed, trying to reclaim the thought process before his brain had rudely interrupted.

It was the needle sliding into his neck that made him realize that he had horribly miscalculated.

Chapter Text

Before Tim was fully was aware that he was awake, he knew he was in safe the Manor. He was tucked in a blanket that was so smooth it made his skin sing, buried under the soft smell of fresh laundry. Alfred had a particular detergent that Tim had never been able to find the name of and, while the Bats smelled of kevlar and blood, the Waynes, when not in Armani, smelled of this gentle sweetness.

It would have been the perfect way to start the morning, if it wasn't for the insistent whisper of his brain on how this is wrong wrong wrong, but Tim was too groggy to figure it out. He was injured, but not seriously so. He was hungry- wow, he was really hungry- but even that didn't account for the feeling in his bones of danger and fear. There was someone in the room with him, but the way they breathed was familiar and his brain slotted him in as just Bruce.

Then his brain reminded him that Bruce disdained Tim, throwing the switch that reminded him of the needle in his neck, and Tim rolled out of bed and into a defensive crouch.

Or tried to, anyway.

What actually happened was that Tim rolled, tangling himself deeper into the blanket, and hit the floor in an ungraceful pile that made every injury he'd incurred over the past few days vibrate with pain. He frantically kicked himself out of the blanket, and then scrambled into a defensive crouch to meet the gaze of one Bruce Wayne.

Except that he wasn't. Not really. For starters, the man wasn't sneering at Tim's clumsy maneuver. There were no terse words about form, no harsh barks about failure. He was also younger. Not in a less troubled by the world way for he still smacked of Bruce’s usual intensity, but in a definitely born a few years after Tim's Bruce. Which also meant that he wasn't Thomas Elliot.

Fake Bruce was also still sitting in a plush armchair, holding his hands out by his sides, palms spread wide in the universal gesture of peace, instead of establishing himself as the alpha of alphas by looming.

Worse, Tim was in a painfully familiar room. The walls were a soft lavender and the decor was accented to match. A vase on the end table. Paintings of hazy flowers. A mahogany dresser against the far wall. Like all the guest rooms in the Manor it was a little too plush to be inviting, which was why Tim had felt no guilt when he'd utterly destroyed this room in his grief of being fired from Robin. He'd reduced that dresser to kindling and ground the vase into dust. The chair Fake Bruce was in had shattered against the largest painting, leaving a hole in the drywall and glass shards in the carpet. No one, not even Alfred, had ever mentioned it to his face. He'd just come back from the Middle East to find that the room had been converted into an art studio for Damian. Like everything in the Manor, redone to suit Damian's tastes.

It was unnerving. Tim was unnerved.

But he was also well trained. “Bruce?” He dropped out of the defensive crouch, wrapping an arm around his torso in a show of vulnerability as he widened his eyes, wearing innocence like a costume. “What’s going on?”

“What’s the last thing you remember?” Fake Bruce asked firmly, the way he did when he was questioning a witness liable to spook. The man’s impression was impressive.

“I-I,” Tim affected a stutter as he scrunched his face. How many hours did people lose after being drugged? “I had fought the Riddler? And had left him with Gordon. I know I planned on heading to my safe house but I don’t-” He cut himself off to stare at his toes. He could lie to Batman, a man who’d known him for years, who’d trained him to conceal the truth. This man would be a piece of cake.

Fake Bruce patted the bed. “Take a seat. What I’m about to tell you might be… difficult to accept.”

Though he was loathed to give up the maneuverability, Tim did as he was told and perched himself on the very edge of the bed, careful to make sure his feet wouldn’t tangle in the blanket if he needed to move suddenly. He moved gingerly, buying more time as his mind raced through which lies he was likely to be told and calculated the best responses. Isolation was the most likely goal, so there was a high chance he’d be informed that someone was dead. Or taken, if whoever had Tim needed him to unwittingly take down an enemy. There was also the possibility of a fake reconciliation, playing on Tim’s role as the family outlier in order to foster some affection towards his captor, and wasn’t it just embarrassing on how easily he’d given them that ammunition.

“Tim.” His name fell heavily from Fake Bruce’s lips. “I’m not your Bruce Wayne.”

“What?” What. This was not on the list.

“I’m not your Bruce Wayne.” Fake Bruce repeated. “I’m from an alternate universe and though my intent was not to interfere with your world, when I became aware of your situation I grew concerned.” Tim’s situation? What did that even mean? “I kidnapped you, and brought you to my universe.”

That explained the room, and made more sense than someone trying to recreate this specific room from Tim’s memory. It also explained Bruce shedding a few years. Multiverse theory stated that it was possible that there were infinite universes with infinite permutations of the people who occupied them, so it was definitely a plausible scenario. One that would be difficult to correct. Tim did not have the scientific background that would be needed for him to find a way back to his universe. And seriously, what the hell did he mean by ‘situation’? Was it that he thought Tim was unfit to be Red Robin? Or unfit to be the CEO of Wayne Enterprise?

“What are you planning on doing to me?” Tim asked, hoping that keeping his voice small would help hide any annoyance that bled into it.

Other Bruce shuffled forward into the chair and leaned in. His shoulder twitched, a telltale sign of an aborted movement. “I’m going to help you heal, and then I am going to return you home.”

What. The. Hell.

Tim didn’t have to pretend to be bewildered. “The burns will be healed in a few days, and the cut didn’t even need stitches.” Tim was barely injured. Definitely not enough to warrant an inter-universal intervention. Was this Bruce Wayne unhinged? Driven by loss? Maybe his Tim had died and he was trying to live out a fantasy where that was avoided.

“You're depressed."

"I'm fine." Of all the hairbrained ideas. Tim wasn't moping in bed feeling sad all the time. He was productive! Wayne Enterprise had grown by ten percent last quarter and he was making his way through his list in good speed. Depressed. Ridiculous.

Other Bruce frowned, and Tim could see Batman looking through. "You don't eat unless someone hands you food." His place didn't have a kitchen or even a microwave. "You only sleep when you physically cannot stay awake any longer." Um hello. Tim was a vigilante. That was par for the course. "You don't socialize." All Tim's friends were dead. "You have a substance abuse problem."

"I do not," Tim protested, scandalized. Tim would never! He'd seen what did had done to Roy. It was not an experience Tim wanted to emulate.

Other Bruce raised an eyebrow and leaned forward, propping his elbows on his knees. "Your caffeine habit."

Okay. If this Bruce thought caffeine was a 'substance' then he was definitely off his rocker. Tim would need to be careful on how he played this.

"How 'healed'," and wasn't Tim proud that he didn't actually do the finger quote gesture, "do I have to be before I can go home?"

"You need to hit and maintain a minimum weight and be able to demonstrate regular sleep habits," Other Bruce listed. " I also want you actively socializing. I'll arrange for someone for you to speak to, someone in the League so you can confide what you feel you need to. I understand, given your affiliations, that you prefer to avoid antidepressants unless absolutely necessary?"

Tim nodded. This was weird, but doable. He could play along with that until the doppelganger returned him home or revealed his true motives.

"And no more caffeine."

The man was a menace and a sadist if he thought he could come between Tim and coffee. Stealth would be required, but Tim was very sneaky. It wasn't anything he couldn't handle. "How does my counterpart feel about you bringing home someone with his face?" Tim would have felt weird about it. Other Tim probably felt weird. Unless he was dead. He was probably dead. Tim himself should probably be dead several times over.

Bruce leaned back, a subtle sign of discomfort. "This universe is an alternate to yours. While there are many points of commonality, there are just as many differences. For example: the times of our world's align. The year, day, and hour are the same. However, in this universe Dick is only nineteen."

Oh.

Oh shit.

Tim closed his eyes. "Jason."

"It's been nine months." There was an undercurrent of pain that Tim had never heard in his Bruce's voice. "I intend to investigate whether or not this is a point of commonality. And Damian. If they… I'm going to bring them home, if I can."

"As for Tim, Janet Benoit and Jack Drake never married in this universe," Bruce bruskly changed topics, the emotions of moments before tucked away. "There is a high possibility that they never met. Janet married Daphne Dean several years ago and they are currently living in Metropolis."

"Daphne Dean the actress?" Tim's mom had been bi?

"Indeed," Bruce smiled, radiating approval. "Janet was her publicist before they transitioned into a romantic relationship. It caused quite the scandal."

The smile melted away. "Jack Drake married his addictions counselor, a woman named Dana Winters." Bruce shuffled on his chair, putting himself close enough to Tim that he could place a warm hand on Tim's shoulder. "They were murdered on their honeymoon by Obeah Man. I'm sorry." He gave a light squeeze before pulling away, leaving a cold patch in its absence.

"Um, thank you? But it's not like I knew them?" What was the emotional protocol for discovering you had a dead not-parents in an alternate universe? Was there a protocol? Tim could feel something unpleasant curling in his gut, but he was hardly in a position to examine it. "I'm going to need access to the internet, if things are that different here." Also, if Tim was going to become an expert on multiverse travel so he could send himself home. He also needed to figure out if this Bruce was secretly evil.

"You'll be provided a laptop and a phone. You will not,” Bruce’s voice was razor sharp, “be allowed in the Cave or off of the Manor grounds. Dick has not yet been informed of your presence, as his current mission requires him on base. I’m sure he will have no objection to your presence here,” Bruce attempted to assure Tim.

Tim hummed noncommittally. Okay. So there seemed to be no immediate danger. He could handle this. It would all be fine.

Chapter Text

“Fuck you! Fuck you! Fuck you!” The gun fired wildly. Amateur or tourist. Probably both. Batman could have stood in the middle of the alley and not been in danger of being hit by any of those bullets. Instead he ducked to the left, grabbing the lid of a trash can and tossing it at the would-be rapist. It bounced off his skull, staggering the man.

Batman was on him in seconds. He twisted the arm still holding the gun until it popped, the clatter of the gun hitting the alley muffled by the man’s screams. Batman spun him until they were face to face and slammed his fist into the criminal’s chest. He was rewarded with the crack of bones and the man sagging in his grip. Unconscious.

Bruce dropped him.

The man was fine. What were a few broken ribs between enemies? Batman was fine. He’d barely had to put effort into that. The working girl was fine. She’d already bolted.

See? Everyone was fine.

Bruce was going to march back to Tim's universe and throw whoever taught Tim that word off of a building. It was the boy’s standard response to every question he was asked. How’s the soup? It’s fine. Bed is at midnight. That’s fine. How are you feeling today? I’m fine. Even Jason, fresh off the street and half convinced that Bruce was a pedophile, had been easier to communicate with. Bruce would take a creative "go fuck yourself" over an "I'm fine" any day of the week.

It would be easier to bear if this had been some plotted revenge, some form of acting out. Tim was more than capable, and he was already feeling comfortable enough that he’d altered his computer search history to be weird porn. Bruce wasn’t sure if it was because he was actively trying to hide that he was researching multiverse theory or if he was just trying to punish Bruce for the invasion of privacy. Bruce could live with either. Bruce could even handle it if Tim really was spending all his time on fetish porn.

What Bruce could not handle was that his counterpart had abandoned his son when the boy was so obviously in need of help. Tim looked so wounded. He was quiet and jumpy and he spent as much time making eye contact as he did staring at his feet. Alfred has been quick to point out, with a raised eyebrow and stern lips, that part of that may have had to do with the trauma of being kidnapped, but that didn’t explain the resignation that lurked under the boy’s skin. The Riddler had held Tim for three days, and Bruce was the only person who had checked in on the boy. He was the only person who had known.

Tim didn’t believe that his Batman was going to come for him.

Bruce wasn’t sure what to believe.

A low whistle cut across the alley. “Looks like someone’s having a bad day.” A figure separated itself out of the shadows of the alley, strolling with an ease that few could manage in Gotham. She walked right up to the unconscious man, poking him curiously with a toe. “He must have really pissed you off.”

“Cheshire.” The man went after a working girl in Crime Alley. Jason had set up rules about that.

She did a lazy circle, as though she was scoping out the alley. Batman had no illusions that it was just for show, a little delay while her partner set himself up on the roof. “You could at least sound happy to see me.” Her voice sounded put out, but it was impossible to see her face behind her cat mask. “After all, I have your intel.” She stopped, turning to give Batman a steady gaze.

“That was fast.” He’d contacted her his first night back, less than a week ago. He hadn’t expected anything for several more days.

“I’m good at what I do.” Batman nodded and pulled out a Bat-tech cellphone. He didn’t take his eyes off of her while he flipped through the device. He’d set up a few simple gesture commands for this very scenario. He input the codes and then slid the device back into his belt.

There was a beep overhead.

“Money’s secured,” called Red Arrow, dropping into the alley. “It’s all there.” He held up his cellphone so Cheshire could see for herself.

“You were right," Cheshire said bluntly. "Talia’s picked herself up a couple of kids. Details are scarce; people know of them but not about them, but from what I can gather the ages line up with your guesses.” That was a good sign, but no guarantee that it was them. There were too many variables, but there was a chance, and Bruce would take any risk to get Jason back. “Talia usually only has one of them out in public at a time, and she’s always within reach. All three will be Amman in two days time, and by the sounds of it they won’t be staying long.”

Batman nodded. He’d have to hurry. He turned to leave the alley, pausing at its mouth. “Red Arrow,” Batman called, “Nightwing misses you.”

Red Arrow scoffed. “He never knew me.” Batman fixed Red Arrow with a stare, holding it until the archer started to squirm. “Fine! I’ll call him. Now fuck off.”

Bruce fired a grapple and launched himself into the night, calculating If he took the Batplane, he could be in Jordan by tomorrow evening, which would give him a few hours to track down where Talia would be. There were no rumors brewing in Gotham and while Dick and the Team were on a case, the Flash was on Watchtower monitor duty. He was good about keeping an eye out for the Team, if something went amiss. Bruce could explain everything to Dick after. He wouldn’t give the boy hope only to take it away. He’d contact Dick the moment he had anything concrete.

The only major concern Bruce had was Tim. It was too soon after bringing the boy over to abandon him, but this might be his only shot to get both Jason and Damian to safety and he’d only be gone for a few days. Alfred could handle Tim for that long.

X-x-x-x-x

Tim was on the Batcomputer two hours after Batman had left for the Middle East, slicing through the system with ease. It looked like the passwords had all been recently changed, probably in an attempt to keep Tim from doing exactly what he was doing now. A vain attempt; Tim knew all the passwords that the Batman a few years older than Other Bruce used, and thus all the 'new' passwords were ones he had memorized years ago.

He hummed a bit as he flicked through the files, his fingers only pausing to occasionally lift the cup of tea to his lips.

Well, perhaps tea was too strong of a word. It was closer to hot leaf juice. Tim had secured an old box of black tea leaves from the very back of Alfred's cupboards in one of the rare moments he'd been unsupervised, but with no way to brew it he'd resorted to sucking on the leaves when no one was looking. In the Batcave he'd been able to get a mug of hot water but he'd still lacked a proper tea bag. He'd shrugged and dumped the leaves in anyway.

It wasn't ideal, but it would tide him over for now. He'd get real coffee soon.

He'd be home soon.

It hadn't taken Tim much research to realize that multiverse travel would require years of his life for him to understand enough to get home on his own, and while playing along with other Bruce might work, Tim was going to have a very Jason-like reaction if anyone asked him how he was feeling in the next twelve hours. Since he'd woken up it had been a constant barrage of questions. How was this? Was that good? What do you need? It was like living under a microscope with Other Bruce wearing the mantle of dedicated researcher. Tim needed to leave immediately.

So he had scrambled his internet history and started investigating the League and thank you Tom Truscott for social media. The League had an honest to god PR rep and she sanitized the fun out of everything. Tumblr's accounts of superheroes were both more entertaining and more informative, and occasionally contained embarrassing photos of superhero fails. Cross-referencing multiple accounts had led Tim to the belief that this universe had perfected instant travel, which was cool as hell. In his universe the power consumption of the Zeta beams was off the charts, so they were only used for the Hall of Justice to Watchtower. Tim was stealing the improved designs as payment for his time and emotional distress.

The trick was that he needed the device Other Batman had used for universe travel and as far as he could tell it wasn't in the Batcave. He had found the vault of kryptonite and the Red Robin costume, but no interdimensional doohickey. According to the Batcomputer, which had direct access to Watchtower and wasn't that just a bad situation waiting to happen, there was something that Batman had checked in the day Tim arrived that was Not To Be Touched, which meant it was under the highest security possibly.

He laced his fingers and pushed them as far from his body as he could, palms out to stretch the digits and then shook them out. With a grin, he hit the keyboard, codes flying as he sank his claws deeper into Watchtower.

By the time he needed to meet Alfred for breakfast, Tim had a plan primed and ready to be executed at the touch of a button. He spent the meal talking about how wonderful the weather was, a wistful note in just how long it had been since he’d spent anytime outside, until the old butler had suggested that Tim go explore the Manor grounds. Tim had promised to stay close.

Tim had lied.

Which was how he found himself in his favorite local coffee shop, spending Bruce’s emergency pizza money on four light roast cold brews, each with double espresso shots. The barista was giving him concerned looks, though Tim wasn’t sure if it was because of the order or the positively manic look on his face. He’d identified himself as a college student, which should have explained both away. Midterms, he’d said. College kids were always having midterms.

They called his name and Tim had to bite back a whimper as he was handed four perfect coffees in a to-go tray. He made it as far as the alley before he chugged one, sighing as he felt the caffeine hit his veins. And Other Bruce thought he could come between Tim and this.

It was time to show Other Bruce why Tim’s Batman was scared of him doing the super villain thing.

X-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x

Recognized: __ __

X-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x

Barry hated monitor duty. He’d tried to explain to his team that, as a speedster, being forced to sit still for hours on end and observe the world was it’s own special hell. He thought that maybe Batman had understood. Understood; but hadn’t cared. Had said that it would build character, as though being a superhero wasn’t proof that his character was just swell. Superman had just pointed out that he too had super speed and could handle monitor duty just fine, as though being able to run really fast was what made a speedster.

Barry didn’t just run fast. He thought fast. He was fast. And everything around him happened slowly. It wasn’t just the sitting still, it was the watching as the monitors inched between changes, moments taking hours to bleed into each other.

When the song had come on, it had been a bit of a relief. Following music helped Barry keep things in real time and he had no idea why he hadn’t thought of playing music himself. Whoever had picked the song didn’t exactly have the best taste, but it was still better than the crushing silence Barry usually did this in. It wasn't a good song, but it was upbeat and catchy. He was in a solidly good mood by the time the first song ended.

Then it started again.

By the fourth playthrough, Barry’s comms were lighting up with League members complaining about the noise. By the twelfth a base wide announcement had gone out congratulating the prankster and if they could stop now we'd all appreciate that. By the eighteenth play through it had been labelled as a cyber attack, with J'onn and Ray Palmer combing through they system, trying to find the breach while the rest of the League resisted the temptation to drive ice picks through their eardrums.

By the end of the twentieth playthrough the computer chirped, announcing an incoming call from an unknown source. Barry could feel the way the sound triggered a reaction in his brain, firing signals down his nerves until they reached his adrenal glands. He could feel the hormone hit his system, feel the way his muscles reacted to the extra hit of adrenaline. The moment he answered that, whatever was going on was going to escalate.

"Watchtower." Years of being a hero kept his voice calm.

"How are you enjoying the music?" The voice was sharp and harsh, as though the speaker planned on stabbing the Flash dead with words alone. It reminded him of Batman. Which was bad. The Flash always had a bad day when the bad guy reminded him of Batman, and that was when actual Batman was around to help out. A dozen hours ago the vigilante had left a stern message that he was going to be out of contact, even though he'd only been back for a few days.

The timing couldn't be a coincidence.

"I more of a showtunes guy myself," The Flash answered, adding a bit of cheek to his voice, keeping his tone light. He muted his mic. “I’ll draw this out as long as we can, but you guys need to either get a location or get him out of our system.”

“Yes, yes. Singing in the Rain is a classic and all that,” and oh that was not good. That was so not good. Barry wasn’t sure if he’d ever dropped that tidbit on his favorite movie while bantering with Captain Cold, but even if he had it meant that he had picked up a stalker. Lovely. “But I didn’t call to chitchat.” So much for delaying. “I am in control of your systems and your attempts and removing me have been… amusing.” The last word was drawn out like steel across flesh. “I have one demand and it is rather reasonable. Give me exhibit XO-1047 and I promise that I you will never hear from me again.”

Ray twisted his monitor towards the Flash, shaking his head vigorously. XO-1047 looked like a photo radar gun and gave off enough energy to power a continent. Batman hadn't listed a function for the device, but he had written "dangerous" and "do not touch" all over the files. It appeared to be a fusion of magic and science which meant that it was probably one sturdy knock away from exploding and turning everyone on the Eastern Seaboard into ducks. It wasn't something they could afford to put in unknown hands.

Barry drummed his fingers. "I'm sorry. We're fresh out. Perhaps I could offer you an official Flash ring?"

"That's not how demands work. You will be giving me the device. The only question is how much you endure before you do." The monitor screens all went black, cutting Watchtower off from the rest of the world. "I'll be back after you've had some time to think about your situation."

"J'onn?" Barry spun his head to stare hopefully at the alien.

“He has lowered the Watchtower thermostat to uncomfortable levels.”

“Damn.”

J’onn frowned, the very human expression maring his face. “I do not believe that I will be able to successfully remove him from our system. His knowledge of coding is very advanced.”

"We'll call in Superman. He's fine with the cold. Heck, he'll be fine with whatever our new friend fires our way. "

"Okay, but what about," Ray motioned a hand at the computers. "Batman's unavailable."

"So we'll call in the next best thing."

X-x-x-x-x-x

Dick wanted a lot of things. World peace. A shower. The newest Doomed game for PC. The successful completion of a mission.

“Because of you losers I’m going to be stuck on Team Gamma forever.”

“No way, ese! You’re the one who tripped the alarm!”

“Because Impulse was distracting me! He wouldn’t shut up!”

“At least I managed to grab a sample.”

“Which you dropped.”

“Because Blue Beetle shot me!”

“Maybe if you hadn’t been standing in the way I w-”

Dick surged to his feet, slamming his palms on the console in front of him. “Enough!” he snapped. La’gaan, Jaime and Bart all turned from the bench they were sharing in the bioship to stare at Dick while everyone else looked away. It was the third mission in a row that had gone bad, and what made this one sting was that they had been so close.

Team Gamma, comprised of Lagoon Boy, Blue Beetle and Impulse, had been the team least likely to run across product on the island, and had been the ones to collect the only sample. They dropped it during an instance of friendly fire. They’d also set off every single alarm in a hundred mile radius, which had detonated the warehouses Teams Alpha and Beta had been exploring before they’d gathered their samples. Dick had been less than a minute away from successfully prying into the container to fill a test tube and while he knew if he had stayed he would have gone up with the warehouse, it still burned to have almost succeeded. Having to fight chemically enhanced baddies to make it back to the Bioship so they could limp away empty handed been a perfect conclusion to that mess.

“The mission went sideways,” Dick ground out from clenched teeth, cataloging the expressions of the team. La’gaan had his chin jutted out mulishly, as though daring Nightwing to blame him for the evening’s failure. Jaime’s gaze kept dropping before popping up again, a sign of guilty feelings and the need to take responsibility. Bart looked ready to vibrate right out of the Bioship. He could probably do it, too.

Dick sighed, forcing his jaw to relax as he straightened up, his hands hanging loosely at this sides. It was hard to remember ever being that fresh, that new to field. “Missions sometimes go sideways and when that happens we debrief, we learn, and we don’t turn on each other.

“Tonight’s mission sucked. The mission before this one sucked. The mission before that one also sucked. We can’t undo any of that, but we can prepare better for the future. So we are going to get back to the mountain, we’ll have a quick debrief, get ourselves cleaned up, and then we’ll do pizza or something.”

“Yeah! Pizza!” Garfield punched the air in celebration. “I want pineapple on mine!”

Cassie wrinkled her nose. “That’s so gross! It’s a fruit!”

“Tomatoes are a fruit,” Barbara pointed out reasonably.

Dick sank back onto his bench as the conversation flowed around him and not for the first time he missed Kaldur so sharply it caused his breath to catch. Even after passing the team off to Nightwing, the older Atlantean had always been a source of advice and of occassional for comfort for Dick. He knew exactly what it was like to lead a team of teen superheroes and while Batman might complain about the Justice League’s more childish antics, the situations were uncomparable and his mentor’s advice just didn’t translate to a teenage team. The sooner they could get their hands on the newest Kobra Venom variant, the sooner Kaldur could complete his mission and come home.

“Incoming transmission,” M’gann announced before the Flash’s face popped up on a display screen, music filling up the bioship. A single glance at the flustered speedster was enough to make Dick’s heart sink.

“Flash,” he greeted with a nod.

“Hey, Nightwing. I have a new mission for you.”

“No can do,” Dick shook his head as he spoke. “We’re just coming off a mission now and aren’t in any shape for another one.” Everyone was exhausted and emotional. Going out again would get someone killed.

“And normally I wouldn’t even think of asking, but our backs are up against a wall. Watchtower has been disabled from a cyber attack and Batman is out of contact.” Again. Dick had gotten the vague Be Back Soon message from Bruce, but he didn’t know why the man had left it after just having gotten back from wherever he’d vanished to for six weeks with no contact. It rankled, to be left in the dark, but Dick trusted Bruce to tell him when it became important. Bruce had learned that lesson when the kids had founded the Team, though he and Dick still occasionally disagreed over what important looked like.

“How bad?” Dick asked.

“Bad. We’re blind at the moment and the temperature is dropping quickly. J’onn and Atom can’t get him out. Here.”

A display screen sprung up on Dick’s station showing him a screenshot of code. Barbara walked over from where she was sitting and leaned over Dick’s shoulder close enough that he could smell her shampoo. “Well, that’s not good,” she announced. Dick nodded in agreement.

“They’re using a built-in backdoor to access the system,” he explained to the Flash, scrolling through more of the lines of code, studying. “The only computers on the planet that have this level of access are ones that were set up by the Justice League.” Or by Batman. The Batcave’s computer would be capable of pulling something like this off. “I can use the system at Mount Justice to limit their access and maybe get Watchtower a bit of control back, but the only way to fully ensure that they’re out of the system will be to physically pry them away from the keyboard.”

“Can you get us a location?”

Dick traced the code with eyes. He could see the intruder’s steps clearly, like pulling the professional dancer out of a crowd at the club. The coding was years ahead of its time and it was not asterous that whoever was using it was doing so for the sake of evil. There were only four, maybe five computers on the planet capable of running this particular backdoor. Tracing it back to a source was probably going to be the only easy thing about this. “Yeah, I’m pretty sure I can. What’s their agenda?”

“The Watchtower has something I need. It is a simple matter of them giving it to me and then this all goes away,” came a sharp, jagged, and unfamiliar voice.

“Crap,” muttered the Flash.

“Really, Barry? I told you I controlled everything. The comms are included in that very extensive list.”

“Double crap.” Barry’s transmission cut out.

That was an understatement. This guy had the Flash’s secret identity. Barry may have come off as pretty chill, but he’d never risk Iris or Wally. He was good about keeping his secrets secret.

“Now,” the voice rolled the word as though it was a drum before a big trick. Dick assumed the speaker was male as it didn’t sound like there was any computer interference, but age was impossible to guess. “You seem like an intelligent young man. You’ll have realized by now that if I’m in Watchtower, I’m everywhere else. Do you really think that breaking into the Hall of Justice will be the best use of your time? Especially when I know all your real names?”

Cassie scoffed. “He’s bluffing.”

“Really, Miss Sandsmark?” came the condescending response.

Cassie’s skin bleached itself to a sickly grey as her arms came out, as though they could protect her from this the way they protected her from bullets. Barbara grabbed her by the shoulders to steady her before sending Dick a desperate look.

(Mindlink’s up.) Bless Miss M.

(He knows my name! How does he know my name? What if he goes after my mom?!) Cassie’s mental voice was tinged with hysteria.

(He can’t go after anyone if we find him first,) snarled Conner.

La’gaan, for once, was agreeing with Conner, which might have been the biggest shock of the night. (He slipped up. We know he’s at the Hall of Justice. Let’s find him and teach him why you don’t mess with the Team.)

Dick ran a hand through his hair, his mind racing. The Hall of Justice comment was a red herring, unless it was meant to be assumed to be a red herring. He had either said that because he really wanted them to go to the Hall of Justice, or because he really didn’t. Mount Justice had tighter security but also a better computer system. He’d be easier to track from there. (Miss Martian, Batgirl, Lagoon Boy, and Wondergirl are team Alpha. Your assignment is the Hall of Justice. Beta is Superboy, Blue Beetle, Beast Boy, Impulse and I on Mount Justice. Mission priority is locating the hacker. Batgirl, if he isn’t there, get on the computer and find him. If he is there, contact the Justice League and be careful. Whoever this is is dangerous and he’s probably not alone.)

Out loud Dick put on a show of growling in frustration. “Fine. It looks like you win. We’ll sit this one out.”

The hacker snorted. “Riiiiight,” he drawled sarcastically. “I look forward to seeing you all soon.” The connection cut.

x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x

Tim drummed his hands on the side of his coffee. It was room temperature, but still three quarters full so Tim could forgive it its sins. He took a small sip, careful to savor the brew. It was his last one, the empty corpse of its friends tipped over by his feet, and couldn’t exactly drop what he was doing to go get another one. Especially not when things were not going according to plan.

The Justice League and the Titans had always been two very distinct, very separate entities and they didn’t share missions or agendas. For the Flash to immediately call up this univere’s teen team meant that the relationship between the two was something Tim had fundamentally misunderstood. He should have collected more information, but if he’d waited any longer, Other Bruce would have been there to interfere.

As it stood now the Justice League would reject Tim’s demands as long as the teenage heroes were free to operate, and Dick at any age was smart enough to cause problems. He’d already remotely killed the Batcave computer and while Tim had expected that move, he’d expected it both later and coming from Batman. The Hall of Justice remark ensured that Dick would split the team. Further plans couldn’t be solidified until Tim found out who Dick had sent to his front door.

x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x

During the day, the architecture of the Hall of Justice was impressive, looming about with odd angles and elegant designs, a beacon of hope and order. At night, with the possibility of enemy engagement, those quirks of architecture became shadows in which an enemy could be hiding.

(I never thought that I’d find this place spooky,) murmured Cassie as she peered into the shadows as though thermal vision was on her power list. (What are we going to do when we catch him? Like, if he knows who we are….) she trailed off into an uneasy silence.

(The Justice League will have a contingency plan for something like this,) Barbara assured Cassie, placing a hand on her shoulder. (So the sooner we catch him the sooner we can turn him over, okay?)

And if the Justice League didn’t have a plan, M’gann did. It wouldn’t be hard to get into his head and shuffle his memories around. After all, he couldn’t act on knowledge he no longer had and M’gann was not going to stand idly by while this person threatened her teammates, threatened her home, all for some shiny toy that the Justice League had. (Then let’s get to it.) She projected a map of the base into everyone’s minds. (The central computer is here,) she highlighted the area, (but there are access points here, here and here than he may be using instead. Lagoon Boy, your point of entry is here, through the water intake. Once inside I want you to go to this access point and secure it.)

(Gotcha, Angelfish.)

(Batgirl, I want you to secure the main terminal. You’re the best out of us with computers and the sooner we can get him out of our system the better.)

(Right.)

(Wonder Girl, your entry point is here,) M’gann flashed an image of a maintenance hatch on the roof. (Secure this checkpoint and please, try to be quiet.)

(He knows we are coming,) Cassie objected.

(Yes, but he doesn’t know we are here,) Barbara pointed out. (We need every advantage we can get.)

(Fine. Stealthy. I can do stealthy,) Cassie grumbled.

(I’ll secure the other checkpoint. He’s already proven he can eavesdrop on comms, so stick to the mindlink only.)

They split off quickly. M’gann immediately camouflaged, vanishing into the night. It was a simple matter to sink into the walls as though they were water and walk straight to the other side. She emerged in the Hall of Heroes. The room was eerie, bathed in the hum of electronics and the weak lcd lights of the wax statues’s bases. She glided between the figures, eyes peeled for any signs of an enemy. She reached out psychically, looking for anything that resembled a sentient mind.

She jumped when Barbara activated the link. (Hall of Justice defenses are, uff, active!)

(I haven’t run into anything,) Cassie reported. (What type of defenses are we talking about? Batgirl?)

The humming grew louder and more insistent, and M’gann realized with growing dread that there shouldn’t have been anything in that room to make that noise. She turned her head, taking in the mechanical shapes in the shadows that were whirring to life as she passed by, tracking through body heat. Something her camouflage couldn’t hide. (We’ve got robotic sentries,) she reported grimly.

She lifted a hand, telekinetically catching one of the robots and throwing it into another. They smashed their way through the Green Lantern display, taking out the wax figure before they slammed into a halt at the wall. They shuddered before the own she had thrown self-righted, dented but still functional. It extended a short thin arm, two tiny prongs at the end. They glowed white as sparks flew between them and the robot practically flew towards her.

She slammed a wave of power into the robot, knocking it back again. Another took its place, prong extended as it sped closer. M’gann took off through the wall. Hopefully the Beta team was having more luck.

X-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x

Bart was bouncing on his heels. Nothing about this situation was crash. He was hungry, tired, and hungry and the Justice League was at the mercy of some psycho that Bart had never heard of before which was weird because, hello? Future anyone? Sure, a lot of information had been lost, but someone smart enough to brick Watchtower would have had to have been Elevated or Moded. They wouldn’t have faded silently into obscurity.

Nightwing’s tongue was peeking out from between his lips as he tried to hack his way past the door. He’d get it. Bart knew he’d get it the same way he’d gotten the last one and the one before that. But it was taking For Ev Er and Bart really wanted them to make it as far as the kitchen so he could stock up on the calories he’d need if this became a fight.

“You do know that I can vibrate through doors, right? It’s part of the whole Being the Flash’s Grandson thing,” Bart brought up again. He’d mentioned it early but Nightwing hadn’t reacted. Maybe he was being too subtle. “Like, I could run through the mountain and be back here in an instant and let you know if our guy is here or just screwing with us.”

“Can’t,” Superboy leaned against the wall, frustration oozing off of his every inch. “Comms are out and M’gann is with team Alpha.”

“So I’d run back here instead of radioing it in.” Like, obviously?

The doors slid open. “Sooooo,” Nightwing drawled out as he disconnected his glove from the wall, “if you get into trouble you won’t be able to call us for help.”

Right. In the past there were still enough good guys left that someone would come after you if you got into trouble. In the future you followed the plan and hoped you didn’t die, or worse, get caught. Nobody was so important that a rescue effort could be made. There were so few of them left free anyways, and spending multiple lives to save one was bad resource management. It was cold, but warm, fuzzy feelings didn’t get you through the day. But he was in the present. Warm fuzzies were not only allowed but expected. Maybe the truth?

“So maybe I don’t swing through the whole mountain, but it would be crash if I could stop off at the kitchen?” He jogged a little to get a head of Nightwing, walking backwards so he could have this conversation face to face.

“You’re hungry?” Beast Boy gawked. “At a time like this?”

“I’m pretty sure I saw you eat while we were out in the field,” Blue Beetle frowned at him and Bart could feel the hairs on the back of his neck rise.

“I’m a speedster,” Bart said slowly for those at the back of the class. That energy bar had been hours ago, and he’d since fought doped up bad guys and had to recover from being shot by his own teammate. Those calories could officially consider themselves burned. “And all sorts of bad things happen when we don’t get fed.” Bart stopped as he walked backwards into the door, his back pressing against the cold metal.

“I get it,” Nightwing said, and by his tone Bart thought maybe he really did. The rumor was that he’d been besties with Wally before they’d all died. He probably actually knew about speedsters. “This is the only door between us and the briefing room. I can get into the system from here and hopefully get Mount Justice back under control. After that the next priority will be the kitchen, okay?”

Bart sidestepped so Nightwing could get closer to the access panel and do his cool glove trick thing. He tapped his foot as Nightwing began the process of hacking yet another door.

“So what do you think this guy wants?” asked Beast Boy, wide eyed. “Do you think it’s world domination? Are we about to save the whole planet?”

“I doubt that, ese.” Blue Beetle shook his head. “He said he was after something from the Justice League. It’s gotta be tech.”

“Could be knowledge,” Superboy pointed out. “It could be that he’s just trying to keep us busy while some buddies of him do take over the planet. There’s no point in assuming.”

“ ‘Do not decide what isn’t true until it reveals itself,’ ” Nightwing spouted. He offered a sly grin. “I read that in a fortune cookie.” Superboy snorted. “Now, I’ve almost got this door open, but be ready. If he’s here there is a good chance he’s in this room, already waiting for us.” Everyone fell into battle stances and Blue’s hand morphed itself into a gun. “Ready?” Nightwing typed into his glove and the door opened.

Three disks immediately flew through the cracks and exploded into smoke. Bart burst through it, doing a lap of the room as he took in his surroundings. There were multiple holodisplays up, showing footage from the Watchtower, where people were piling on clothes, to the Hall of Justice where Wonder Girl was about to punch a robot with it’s own arm. There was an empty office chair with a wheely base, and three large, empty plastic cups lying by its wheels. A mostly empty office chair, Bart revised. There was a fourth cup, over half empty, that had been taped to the seat. Their opponent was right beside the door, bo staff drawn and his one hand already reaching for more of those spinning disks. He was wearing a distinctive black cowl over red body armor and Bart felt something in his guts settle as he realized who it was.

“Tim!” he yelled.

Startled, Red Robin turned to the sound of his name which set him up for the perfect position for Bart’s purposes. Bart threw his arms out, wrapping them around Tim’s and pinning the older boy’s to his torso. He pressed his face against the hard armor and clung hard. It was so crash that he’d finally found the other boy.

Nightwing stepped out of the smoke, his escrima stick ready. “Uh, Impulse? Is there something we should know?”

“It’s Tim,” Bart stressed the name. How was Dick not recognizing him? They were brothers.

“Wait! Wait wait wait!” Tim shrugged himself out of Bart’s grip, taking a step back to get his bearings. “How the hell do you know who am I?” Tim had had a plan. It had been a decent plan, with a what and a how and nowhere, absolutely nowhere, was getting hugged by this universe’s Bart Allen on that list.

“Oh, yeah! Sorry. I’m Bart. I’m from the future. I guess this is weird with me knowing you and you meeting me for the first time, but hey, time travel’s fun like that, right?” The speedster stuck out a hand. "It's like escaping the Matrix, right?"

“Impulse,” Nightwing cautioned, but Tim could barely hear it over the blood pounding in his ears. Escaping the Matrix. That was code. That was Tim's personal code.

“Nightwing,” Bart echoed with a confused frown, putting his hand back down. “Don’t tell me you haven’t met Tim yet. Aren't you guys bros?”

Tim forced his jaw to work. "Bart. Just how far in the future are you from?" And why did Tim send him back to now? What could possibly be done now to prevent the world ending in the thirty-first century?

"Forty years!" Tim's brained stuttered to a halt. "I'm Barry's grandson."

No. No no no. "I'm still here in forty years?" Tim choked out. He didn't find a way home?

No one came for him?

No one came for him.

Tim shouldn't have been surprised. He shouldn't have. The chances of anyone from his universe finding him in this one was astronomically small, if they even suspected universe hopping. If they were even looking.

They probably weren't.

"Um," Garfield poked his head out from the hall. "Are you okay?"

Tim was not okay. Nothing was okay. If you tried to look up ‘okay' in the dictionary you would have to go to a different city to find a goddamn dictionary because the word had violently rejected Tim and moved across the country to get away from him.

But instead of explaining that, Tim threw his coffee against the cave wall. The plastic bounced off of the wall and hit the floor with a sloshy thud. It didn't even spill, the lid holding the coffee in tight. That was unsatisfying. Tim was unsatisfied.

He screamed and dashed towards the wall, punched the spot where the coffee had hit over and over until his wrist began to ache. It wasn't fair. His plan had never stood a chance and now he was going to be trapped here for forty goddamn years. He. Needed. To. Go. Home.

He slumped against the wall and slid down until he was curled into a half ball. Dick was watching him as though he might attack at any second as he typed away on an interface, undoing everything Tim had wrought.

Not that it mattered.

Not that Tim mattered.

No one was coming.

The Flash called in with a cheer that made Tim want to drive a spoon through his own eye. Watchtower was up and running, now what about Tim? They’d probably just lock him up. That’s what his Bruce wanted to do, even if he never said it. Lock him up and throw away the key because Tim was too smart and too dangerous and utterly unlovable. But they needed answers and what was Tim supposed to say? Attacking Watchtower had been selfish because Tim was a selfish prick. No wonder no one liked him anymore. Selfish and cold. That’s what Tam had said. Unfeeling.

Another communication came through and now Other Bruce had joined the conversation and that snapped Tim out of his fugue just in time to hear Barry ask if Batman knew Tim. He couldn’t help the poisonous laughter that bubbled up from his lips, though he could tell by the way everyone tensed that he must have sounded positively demented. “Yeah, Batman. Do you know something about the little hacker?” he dropped back into the Red Robin voice. Everyone winced.

Batman spoke in his sooth the upset witness voice. “You have every right to be upset-”

“Upset? Why would I be upset?!” Tim could feel the hysteria under his skin flowing out his mouth. “I just met Bart! Bart from forty years in the future! Who knows me. Me, from forty years in the future! Now why. The hell. Would I be. Upset?” He ended the sentence on a hiss.

“You are alive forty years in the future.”

“That’s what you are focusing on? Really? Maybe I don’t want to fucking be alive forty years in the future. Did you ever fucking think of that, B?”

"I'm just gonna let the League know that you're taking care of this, Batman." The Flash's screen vanished as he hung up. Coward.

"I am painfully aware of your current mental state, Red Robin." Tim could feel Batman narrow his eyes from behind his white outs. "You have been lying about your sleep habits."

Keeping Batman's gaze, Tim bent over and scooped up the remains of his coffee, finishing it in one, long, slow sip as he flipped Batman the bird. Behind Tim someone choked on air.

"I am aware that you are traumatized," Other Bruce tried again. "And I understand my contribution to that trauma. But I am currently your best resource for overcoming that trauma. I am sympathetic to your need to return home, but if I return you now you will be dead in a few weeks and I refuse to contribute to that."

"I'm fine!"

"Nightwing," Other Dick flinched and Tim could practically feel the hurt and confusion radiating off of the older boy. He was so young in this universe."This is Red Robin. Escort him to the Batcave and ensure that he remains there. Agent A will have further instructions for you. I will explain when I return." And Other Dick, like Tim's Dick, was soothed by that simple non-answer. "In the meantime, hug Red Robin."

That gave Other Dick a pause. "You want me to hug him?" He eyed Tim warily, as he should.

"Try it and I'll nerve strike you, Dickface." Tim raised his hands to back up the threat.

Instead of scaring Other Dick off, something in the man sharpened and he approached Tim with the confidence of someone who engaged in reckless behavior for fun, his arms spread wide.

A push in the centre of Tim's back (Bart, that traitor) had Tim falling into Dick's arms.

And oh, oh god they hugged the exact same way. The hug was warm and Dick's arms were in all the right places with the perfect amount of pressure.

When was the last time Tim had been hugged? Bruce had, after Tim had saved him from time and they'd returned to Gotham. There had been a brief hug on the roof. But Dick hadn't hugged him since Damian's arrival. He hadn't wanted to make the younger boy upset, so Tim just had to go without. How long ago had that been? It felt like centuries.

Tim couldn't remember the last time his Dad had hugged him. The last time his Mother had touched him.

A hand was stroking the top of his cowl, Dick's voice whispering reassurances in his ear and Tim realized that he was sobbing into the boy's chest. Instead of pushing him away in disgust, Dick wrapped him up tighter, the way Dick had before Tim had been replaced, back when Tim had still hoped that they could be brothers.

"I've got you. It's alright. I've got you."

Tim couldn't have stopped himself for all the coffee in the world. He tightened his own grip, burying himself deeper in Dick's hold and allowed himself to pretend for just a moment that everything really was going to be okay.

Chapter Text

"Does this mean the pizza party is cancelled?" Garfield asked, eyeing Tim dubiously. The question broke the moment and the smaller boy pulled himself out of Dick's arms and stepped off to the side.

Dick couldn’t help but see Bruce in the movement. Tim reacted the exact same way the older man did when masking emotional vulnerability. He straightened for maximum height and allowed his cape to slide smoothly down his shoulders until it completely concealed the body so Bruce could grab smoke pellets or his grappling gun, whatever was most convenient for retreat. And despite being shorter than Dick, Tim was doing a decent job of pulling off the looming over you vibe.

Either Bruce had somehow managed to have yet another secret life with more secret kids that had been trained for years, or someone had the brass needed to clone the Batman, which… would actually explain a lot. It explained the six weeks silence. If Bruce was tracing cloning labs with his genetic material he wouldn’t have wanted the Justice League to be involved because of a mix of risking his secret identity and taking the enemy actions personally.

It explained why he hadn’t immediately told Dick about everything. On top of trying to settle Tim in, which was a definite work in progress, Bruce would have to come to terms with both letting his guard down enough for someone to get his DNA and the shock of finding out he had another son. Was Tim a direct clone of Bruce, made to replace him like with Red Arrow? Or had they mixed him, like Conner? If he was this young either Bruce had interrupted the accelerated aging process, or had they planned on setting him up as a Wayne heir? Dick wasn’t sure and wouldn't know until they got the mask off.

It also explained why Tim was such a mess. Sure, Tim had snapped and snarled when Dick had approached, but once he'd snagged the boy into the hug Tim had broken down into these heart wrenching sobs that came deep from within his chest, as though he’d never cried before. He'd gripped Dick back and nuzzled against him like an abused puppy, almost desperate for human contact. Definitely touch-starved. Probably abused.

To make matters worse the costume didn’t fit. There were places where it hung off of Tim, created pockets of weakness where a knife or bullet could more easily penetrate the armor, defeating the purpose of it. Either whoever had been handling Tim hadn’t cared enough to make certain he was well protected or Tim had lost weight suddenly.

Given Tim’s fight with Bruce, both of these things were probably true.

"You guys go ahead," Dick told Beast Boy, who was still eyeing Tim warily. Though Tim was staring right back in full Bat mode. Conner's lips were pulling back into a snarl and Bart looked like he was ready to throw himself over a live grenade if it meant protecting Tim. Alpha Team was twenty minutes out, but given that Tim had made them fight robots now was not the time for introductions. "I've got to get Red Robin to the Batcave."

X-X-X-X-X

Tim was a complete, total, and utter idiot.

His plan had failed. He'd allowed the surprise of Impulse's revelation to throw him off instead of detachedly powering through. If he had just stuck to the plan he could have prevented Impulse's future and gotten the hell home.

But no. Instead he'd allowed himself to tailspin into a very public meltdown, ruining everything.

He'd made himself an enemy of the Justice League, alienating any potential future allies he could have found there. They'd probably be confronting Other Bruce about his new dangerous pet, demanding to know how he was going to keep Tim muzzled. And now that Bruce knew the flinches were faked and Tim's apparent inability to hold eye contact a scam, he would be stepping up security on Tim. The question is what would that look like? Nightwing trailing him around at all hours? Or a reservation to the cells that Batman kept in the Cave?

It would serve Tim right. He was so stupid! He knew that no one was going to come for him. It's part of why he'd struck hard and fast instead of lazing about, waiting for rescue. The confirmation should not have rattled him being as it was a blindingly obvious conclusion. It was just one more reason for Bruce to be ashamed of him.

Showing emotions was for amateurs. They were wasted energy that revealed weakness to your opponents. Better to plot your next move than to indulge in an unseemly fit of hysterics. Tim had learned that at Janet Drake's knee, though she'd always disdained how poor of a pupil he made.

"You got something you want to say?" Barked Kon (no, Kon was dead. Stick to pseudonyms, keep it impersonal).

Tim blinked, suddenly acutely aware of the room and it's occupants. He must have zoned out. Loss of situational awareness while surrounded by hostiles. Another unforgivable sin.

Especially since Superboy was actively growling at Tim, his lips pulled back and his teeth on full display. Tim reacted by not reacting, holding his pose and not breaking away from his stare. In turn, Superboy bent his knees. He looked ready to pounce.

"Whoa! You don't want to do that," Impulse cautioned, zipping his way in between. He spread his arms hide as he stood in front of Tim, acting as a human shield. A flimsy one, considering the power Kryptonians packed, but the sentiment was appreciated.

"Why are you protecting him?" Superboy demanded, taking a step forward.

"Dude," Impulse said, more serious than Bart had ever been capable of, "I'm protecting you."

Superboy’s eyes flicked between Impulse and Tim, sizing up the seriousness of that threat. Which was weird. Kon had never really believed that others posed a threat to him until they had already thoroughly kicked his ass, and even then he wrote those off as anomalous events instead of recognizing his own mortality. It was hardly surprising that he’d died young.

Tim resisted the urge to physically shake his head as he tried to dislodge that thought. It was bitter, even for him.

“We are not doing that!” Blue Beetle yelped, drawing the attention of the room. “No. Why would you even suggest that?” Ah, fighting with the scarab.

“Okay!” Nightwing bounced back into the room as though he was oblivious to the growing tension. Tim doubted it. You didn’t survive in Gotham High Society without being able to read the room. “Red Tornado is going to cover the debrief and the pizza’s paid for and will be ready for pick up in about forty minutes. All I need to do is set Tim up with codes for the Zeta and we will be ready to leave.” Nightwing attempted to sling an arm over Tim’s shoulders, forcing the teen to duck.

Superboy was still glaring. “Are you sure you don’t need backup?”

Nightwing waved him off. “Nah, it’ll be fine. Right, Tim?” He shot a stupidly chipper Dick Grayson smile, one that promised warmth and family and it was all Tim’s fault. He should have followed through and hit Nightwing with a nerve strike instead of being allowing himself to get sucked into the hug. Nightwing was probably under the impression that his touches were welcomed and Dick had always been one for physical demonstrations of his affection. He was going to take full advantage of that.

Tim couldn’t let it happen. He wasn’t going to allow himself to get used to people touching him again just to lose it one more time. He could handle pain, but he wasn’t a masochist who sought it. Maybe he could take a page out of Damian’s book and stab the next person who tried to hug him, driving everyone off before they could leave. He could stab Other Bruce. That would be satisfying.

“Tim?”

Right. They were supposed to be leaving. Tim really needed to cut out with the zoning out. When was the last time he slept? Whatever. Sleep was for the weak.

Instead of answering Nightwing Tim strode into the Zeta tube, the transition from Mount Justice to Gotham absolutely seamless. He emerged in the phone booth, quickly stepping out so Nightwing had room to materialize. It took exactly to the count of thirty for the other vigilante to appear. Nightwing sheepishly rubbed the back of his own head. “I guess that explains how you got into the mountain.”

“Let’s go.” Tim headed out, careful to keep himself out of Nightwing’s reach. He let the older boy lead, unsurprised that Nightwing chose a longer, quieter route back to the Cave.

Where Alfred was waiting. “Master Tim,” he greeted cordially. “As I was unsure of the time of your return, supper has been placed in the refrigerator. It will be warm and waiting by the time you change into your casual clothes.” There was no hint of reproach, no raised eyebrow at Tim having abused the butler’s trust to escape from the Manor. “Master Dick.” Alfred gave a wide smile. “It is good to see you home.”

Nightwing grinned back, removing his domino. “It’s great to be home.” He and Alfred warmly embraced and for a moment Tim could have been in his universe, watching as his Dick was easily loved while Tim stood forgotten in the shadows. Nightwing pulled back, leaving both hands on Alfred’s arms, his smile still in place. “I feel like I’ve missed a lot. Bruce said you could fill me in?”

The edges of Alfred’s eyes tightened as his smile morphed into a chipped mask. Dick’s stomach dropped. Alfred only wore that expression when he thought that Bruce was being incredibly stupid but wouldn’t say so in front of polite company and little ears. Dick considered himself fortunate to still be considered too young to offer an opinion, as the idea of having to pick a side between Alfred and Bruce was fundamentally unsettling.

“I’ll see you upstairs, Master Dick. After you’ve cleaned up,” he eyed the dirt on Dick’s outfit with distaste.

Dick laughed and turned back to Tim, only to see that the kid had taken off his cowl. He wasn’t an exact duplicate of Bruce, though he had the inky hair and the blue eyes. That was good. Tim wouldn’t have to struggle with separating his identity from Bruce’s, and it was far easier to pass off a kid who looked vaguely like Bruce instead of exactly like Bruce. But something would have to be done about the dark bags under Tim’s eyes. He looked like he didn’t know what a bed was for. Bruce had made a comment about Tim’s sleep habits, or what DIck was beginning to suspect was a lack thereof. He shuffled Tim into the shower and couldn’t help but notice the moments when Tim seemed to glitch, stilling for a second only to be jerked back to the present. It was a sure sign of sleep deprivation.

The scars were disturbing. Tim sported more than Dick did, and he could tell from the thickness of the ridges that many of those wounds had been deep. As a vigilante, Dick had a solid grasp on anatomy and he could easily pick out the traces of wounds that would have close to being fatal. There were far too many. Which once again brought up the question of why Tim had been created. Had they been planning on installing him as Batman as well as Bruce Wayne’s heir? And if so, why was Tim so boney? Clones were expensive, so why hadn’t they bothered to feed him properly?

Dick skipped his own shower, dragging Tim to the kitchen. Tim ate in silence while Alfred spilled the tea on the latest Gotham scandals. Mrs. Barbaro had worn the same dress to two galas in a row and when she had been snubbed for it, she had responding by attacking the wealthy’s obsession with fashion and pointing out how textiles contributed to pollution. It had sparked a minor war among the more fashion forward of Gotham’s elite with the environmentalists and there was already a push for Bruce to weigh in.

Tim finished a third of his meal before declaring himself full, which was normal, judging by Alfred’s lack of pushing. Tim had also double checked that his accomodations remained the same before retiring to hopefully get some sleep. Alfred escorted Tim to his rooms and Dick moved to the library to wait for the butler. It didn’t take long for Alfred to appear.

“So what’s actually going on?” Dick asked from his position on the corner of the couch. It was leather and decadent enough that Dick had never actually attempted any gymnastics on it.

Alfred sighed, evidence that the unflappable butler was feeling particularly flapped. “While Master Bruce’s intentions are as noble as ever, in this case his means are lacking.” Uh oh. Alfred wasn’t even bothering to hide his disapproval. “Master Tim feels he is here under duress and his summation of the situation is not wholly inaccurate, though he is discounting the necessity of the situation.”

“The necessity?”

Alfred hesitated, choosing his words carefully. “Master Tim is not well.” Yeah, that was pretty obvious. “And he cannot be trusted to act in his own best interest.” That was not. He seemed like he had a solid and reasonable plan back at the base.

Then again, that was five minutes of impression. “How serious is it?”

Alfred’s eyes flared and his lip twitched downwards, which was possibly one of the angriest expression Dick had ever seen on the man’s face. “Master Tim does not eat unless both reminded and supervised and I am considering drugging him to ensure that he eventually sleeps. His reliance upon caffeine is unhealthy at best and he seems continually startled by the idea of conversation.”

“He’s a mess.”

“Indeed, sir. And given the Master Bruce drugged the boy and brought him here without asking, Master Tim is not inclined to look to us for help.” Dick winced. Alfred was definitely upset with Bruce.

“Where is B?’ Dick leaned forward on the couch, resting on hand on his knees. “And where did he find Tim?”

“These are things that Master Bruce wishes to explain to you himself.”

Dick grumbled, “he’d better have one heck of an explanation.”

“I am certain you will find it suitably impressive.”

X-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x
The room was mellow. Whites, creams and tans made up the luxurious decor, each piece carefully chosen to compliment the rest. The space was sprawling and minimalist with only a beige sofa and lacey curtains. The ensuite bathroom had a soaking tub and roses perfumed the air. Through the windows the city sprawled upwards, the soft white buildings glowing like pearls in the fading light of the sunset.

It was surprising. Talia tended towards harsher decor, dramatic darks that more easily concealed both blood and ninjas.

As it stood, the occupants of the room were all easy to spot. There was a child in the center of the attached parlour working his way through advanced yoga poses and even though Bruce had been warned, had been prepared, he still felt caught off guard by the face that was a blend of his. The boy had Talia’s olive complexion, her heart shaped lips and her wary body language. But the rest was all Bruce. The resemblance was startling and impossible to hide. There was no doubting that Damian was his.

On the pale sofa sat another figure and Bruce could feel his heart stutter. There was the familiar scene of Jason flipping through a book, as he so often did in the Manor, licking his finger to turn the page. It had been a habit that had irked Alfred to no end. But as much as the image invoked nostalgia there were obvious differences. Jason had broadened into a build that was more reminiscent of Superboy’s than of any Robin, having lost most of the childish fat in his face. His dark hair now contained a shock of white near the front.

And Talia… Talia lounged by the window, studying the city. She looked the same as she always did, as though she’d been paused at the height of her beauty in a world where time decayed everything around her. It was easy to forget that she drove that decay.

Bruce took a silent step into the room. It’s occupants reacted as though he’d fired a gun. Jason grabbed Damian, who was attempting to draw a dagger, and flipped them behind the couch. Talia spun, dagger leaving her hand before she’d bothered to identify the target.

Bruce caught it with a gauntleted fist.

Talia’s surprise showed for only a moment before her face smoothed into a contained expression. “Beloved,” she purred.

“Talia,” he nodded in acknowledgement.

At his voice, Jason popped his head up from behind the couch. “Holy fuck. B?” Damian also peered over the back of the couch, his eyes narrowed as he studied the intruder. “Where the fuck you been?” Though the words themselves were angry, the tone was relieved.

“Is that Father?” Damian asked with a mix of suspicion and a hint of poorly concealed wonder.

Talia leaned against the window. “You know.” Displeasure flooded her tone.

“I do.” Bruce glanced over at both the boys, who’d fully emerged from behind the couch. “And they will be coming with me.”

Talia pushed off the wall and stalked her way over to Bruce. Were they not on carpet, Bruce knew that her heels would be clicking dangerously, like a snake’s rattle. “You think you can take my son?”

“You took mine.”

She flicked a hand dismissively. “I saved him.” To use as a weapon against him. Bruce had already seen the results of her handiwork, how she had planned to carve his son away until only death and rage remained. The hopeful expression on Jason’s face showed that she hadn’t gotten far in poisoning Bruce’s middle child.

“They are both coming with me.”

Another dagger appeared in Talia’s hand. “Our son is mine.” Her eyes narrowed in rage.

“And you are, as you have always been, Ra’s’s,” Bruce pointed out mercilessly. “When Damian inevitably fails him, will you stand between him and Ra’s's rage? Can you protect him from something you can’t save yourself from?”

She leaned back, eyes narrowed and considering. She hadn’t expected Bruce to know Damian’s name, and someone was likely going to die for that. Bruce couldn’t find it in himself to feel bad. “You failed your own child and allowed him to die. How can you claim to protect ours?”

Jason scowled but thankfully kept his mouth shut. “I am surrounded by allies,” Talia scoffed, “while you have only those who have not yet turned against you. I know his name, Talia. I know his relation to you. How many others outside the League can say the same thing?” Probably none, as not even Cheshire had been able to drag up a name, but Talia didn’t need to know that. “He’s safer with me than he is with you.”

Talia’s shoulders dropped and the dagger vanished. “You would have to keep training him. If he is to survive he will need to know how to fight.”

“I’ll pass to him everything I know,” Bruce promised.

Talia crossed the distance between them, bracing against Bruce, he hands trailing down the black armor of the Batsuit. She leaned so close that her lips nearly touched his ears. “Fail me, fail him, and I will gut you and your children.” She pushed herself away. “Damian, this is your Father.” The child straightened, his shoulders pulled back. “He will be taking over your lessons.”

“Yes Mother,” Damian said dubiously, which was a better reaction than Bruce expected.

Talia rested a hand on the boy’s shoulder. “Goodbye Damian.”

“Goodbye Mother,” he echoed, his voice flat. Bruce felt a small stirring of guilt that he ruthlessly quashed. While he was separating a child from his mother, he was also rescuing his own son from a future with the League of Assassins.

“Beloved,” she nodded at Bruce and then talked out of the room, swaying like a jungle cat. Bruce knew it would not be the last time that they saw each other.

As soon as she was gone, Jason bolted across the room, slamming into Bruce’s chest. He wrapped his arms around Bruce, doing his best imitation of Dick’s octopus hug. “You’re timing is amazing. They wanted me to whack some guy and I think they were probably going to kill me again if I didn’t, which would have really really sucked.”

Bruce held him back just as tightly, his cowl hiding the growing wetness of his eyes. He thought he’d lost this forever. Tim’s universe had given him hope, but hope could be a bitter thing. “Sorry I was late, chum.” Late now, late then.

“Not your fault, B,” Jason mumbled into his armor. It was. It was in every way and Bruce didn’t deserve Jason’s love, Jason’s forgiveness, but he was a selfish man. He’d take it and he would cherish it.

They broke apart with reluctance. Damian was watching the display with a mix of disgust and jealousy. Bruce crouched so that he was kneeling and pulled down the cowl so Damian could see his face. “Hello, Damian.”

“Father,” the boy replied without emotion.

Bruce spread his arms. “In my house, it is a tradition to greet a long absent family member with a hug.”

Damian gave Bruce a wary look. “I believe that unknown and long absent are fundamentally different.”

Jason snorted. “Just hug your dad, gremlin.”

“Shut up, zombie,” Damian spat. But he did take a tentative step into Bruce’s arms.

The hug was awkward. Damian was stiff and did not seem to know what to do with his hands. It didn’t take long for him to squirm uncomfortably, and Bruce let him go as soon as he did. There would be more hugs, better hugs in the future.

Neither boy had much in the way of possessions. Damian had a long sword and both had a collection of knives. Jason was as uncomfortable bringing them as he was of leaving them behind. Bruce had made a comment about house cleaning cutting of their own fingers, which decided the matter.

The Batplane hadn’t been parked far, and the walk to it was filled with Jason’s chattering. He alternated between talking about the things that he missed (Alfred’s cooking) to the latest book he’d read that wasn’t about the best way to stab people (The Art of War, a title Bruce had planned on introducing Jason to anyway). Damian spoke only in rebuttal to whenever Jason veered into teasing the younger boy.

Jason had ran to the plane and hugged it as soon as he was close enough, whispering sweet nothings into the metal. Damian had eyed the vehicle before running a hand across its side, pleased with the transportation. Bruce had indulged both of them, allowing them to poke and prod the plane at will before bundling them into it. Jason had claimed shotgun through the virtue of being both taller and older and Damian had cursed at Todd’s family line.

In the plane it was Bruce’s turn to talk. He updated Jason on what he could in front of Damian, assuring him that no one else had died in his absence. On how Dick had destroyed the dining room table while trying to do a backflip over it in the hopes of impressing a girl, all while wearing a three piece suit. Once Jason had relaxed a little, Bruce brought up the elephant in the Manor.

“We have someone staying at the Manor right now.”

“Oh?” Jason, who wore his emotions on his sleeve, responded with a blank voice. Another trick he had picked up from the League.

“His name is Tim. He’s sixteen.”

Jason sputtered. “You replaced me? Seriously?”

“I agree with Todd. It is galling to discover that you have a false heir. He will need to be taken care of,” Damian said as though it was a matter of fact.

Bruce had read enough of Alternate Bruce’s casefiles to know that this had to be nipped in the bud now. “He is not a replacement or an heir. He’s a…” Bruce grasped for a way to explain that wouldn’t result in bloodshed, “a rescue.”

“A rescue?” Damian sounded confused and suspicious.

“Like from the pound?” Jason was not impressed.

“More like from the wild,” Bruce expanded the metaphor. “Sometimes an animal is hurt and can no longer survive on its own in the wild. Wildlife rehabilitators will catch and heal the animal and reteach it to survive on its own before releasing it back into its habitat.” Tim would probably not appreciate the metaphor, but Bruce was fairly certain that Tim would appreciate being stabbed less. And Damian seemed to be nodding along, which was a victory. “And like an animal from the wild, Tim is prone to lashing out. It’s up to us to be patient with him and to make sure that he doesn’t hurt himself.”

Jason’s tone was still laced with hurt. “Another street kid? You starting a collection or something?”

Bruce sighed. He’d been hoping to explain to Dick first. He should have explained before he left, but that was a miscalculation he’d have to live with. “Tim’s from an alternate universe.”

“Pardon?”

“The fuck?” Jason gave Bruce a baffled stare. “So he stumbled through the veil and you just volunteered to look after him?”

Bruce winced. This was as hard as explaining to Alfred. He kept his tone level, sounding as authoritative without being intimidating. “In his universe, Tim is a vigilante who trained under Batman. He was a Robin, before moving on to a different costume.” A strangled noise came from the passenger’s seat. “Tim’s Batman is….” Bruce trailed off, at a loss for an adjective that encompassed both the gross incompetence and utter cruelty of his counterpart. He drew in a deep calming breath. “Tim was captured and tortured by the Riddler for three days.”

Jason sucked in air through his teeth, though Damian was the one to speak. “Tt. This other you was too incompetant to locate this Riddler before then?”

Bruce grit his teeth at the use of ‘other you’. He wanted no association with that man. The only thing they shared was a face, as far as Bruce was concerned. “He never even noticed that Tim was missing.” It had been a week ago, and Bruce couldn’t mention it without heat creeping into his voice.

“What do you mean he didn’t fucking notice? Was he in a different city? Does he have a Nightwing? Where the fuck was Nightwing?” Jason’s death had been terrible. It had been drawn out, painful, and absolutely terrifying but he had never doubted that Bruce would come. Whether or not he’d make it in time had been a concern, but he’d had unshakable faith that Bruce was doing everything in his power to help. Had Tim held hope that his Bruce would come? Or had he known that he was on his own? How could he not notice that Robin, even a graduated one, was missing?

“Who rescued this Tim?” Damian asked with trepidation.

“Tim escaped on his own power.” That was not the answer Jason had been hoping for. That was fucking messed up. How had no one come for the guy? “I came across him shortly after, drugged him, and brought him to our universe.”

Jesus. “You kidnapped him.”

“Yes.” B didn’t sound the least bit apologetic.

Jason hadn’t even met the guy yet, but he was beginning to feel empathetic. “When Talia woke me up, I stabbed a bunch of her guys.” B paled, so Jason quickly held up his hands. “I didn’t kill nobody, but I was pretty pissed.” And disoriented. The Lazarus pit was not a fun time. Zero out of Ten would not recommend. “I bet Tim’s pretty pissed too.”

B snorted. “Yeah. Tim’s pretty pissed.” Holy hell B was swearing.

“And like a wounded animal, he is liable to attack. Are we not to defend ourselves?” Damian asked with reproach in his tone. This had to be weird for the kid. Sure, sparring with the League had been rough but no one had been willing to randomly ambush Talia’s kid.

“Don’t antagonize him and if you do have to defend yourself, avoid maiming him. Our goal is to help Tim heal.”

Damian sniffed. “Tim is a ridiculous name and I refuse to use it as a form of address. What is his surname?”

B stiffened and Jason braced himself for another bomb. “His name is Timothy Wayne.” Jason opened his mouth, but nothing came out. B had stolen the son of another Batman. Sure, the dude didn’t seem to be the most on the ball as to where his kid was, but if he was anything like Bruce he was gonna come guns blazing when he figured where the kid was here. “He was adopted after his parents were murdered and has no counterpart in this universe. I’ve promised that we will return him when I feel that his chances of surviving in his own universe is higher.”

Like a catch and release program for wild animals, just like B had said. “Let me guess,” Jason mustered as much exasperation into his tone was he could manage. “Kid has black hair and blue eyes?” B’s silence was enough. “Oh my god, you have a problem.” A billionaire who dresses as a bat, fights crime at night, and hoards children that are carbon copies of each other.

“Is this something you do often?” Damian demanded, sounding as stressed as Jason had ever heard him. When Jason had mentioned that B had looked after him, the kid had been quick to assert his superiority as the blood son. Jason had let it slide. The kid was kinda cute the way owls were. Cuddly looking and full of rage and murder. The idea of Bruce constantly adding new additions to the family had to be wigging him out.

But it was better to hit the kid with the truth. Honest slap versus false kiss and all that. “B adds a kid to his collection every couple of years. You’re his fourth kid with black hair and blue eyes. I’ll lay money that you won’t be his last.”

“I assure you that Father will find me adequate and will have no further need to add to his ‘collection’.”

Jason snorted. Damian was going to have a lot of adjusting to do.

Chapter Text

Dick was working the bars when the Batplane pulled in. He dismounted with an easy flip, grabbing a nearby towel to wipe away the sweat from the work out as he waited for Bruce to step out of the plane and explain exactly what was going on. He loved Bruce, he really did, but they had rules about secrets for a reason. The last time Bruce hadn’t filled Dick in, he’d run off and started his own team and yes, they’d demolished a building, but they’d also rescued Conner, which was super cool. It was too bad that Dick didn’t really have a way of topping that, or he’d be making Bruce come find him to explain.

As it was, Dick bounced on his heels with impatience as the cockpit finally popped open and out stepped a figure. Dick froze, his chest stuttering to a halt.

Because that was Jason.

Jason, who was dead, who’d been dead for months.

He felt a swell of something dark in his his guts, because how dare they. How dare they disturb the dead to play their little games. Jason deserved peace. He’d earned it. And someone had the gall to gather up pieces of him and build them into a living human being wearing Jason’s face.

The clone turned and spotted Dick. He stopped, going still as a statue as he stared at the older boy.

“Todd! I demand that you move your insufferable self so that I may exit!” A young voice snarled from the plane. It shook the clone, Todd, out of his relevary and had him step sideways, offering a hand to whoever was still in the plane.

The hand was ignored as another boy, perhaps eight or so, emerged from the plane and it was yet another clone of Bruce, though with this one there was no way to doubt the relation. The boy was exactly how Dick had imagined Bruce looking at that age, though he was wearing the same sour expression Bruce had whenever he discovered that he was going to be interviewed by Vicki Vale. He glanced around the cave lacking the usual awe that it inspired.

Bruce walked around the nose, coming into full view. He stumbled when he spotted Dick, a micro movement that anyone else would have missed, but Dick knew Bruce well enough to recognize both that the man did get nervous and that was what he was feeling that right now. Which he should be because he’d acquired not one, not two, but three children without mentioning anything to Dick.

But Bruce’s lack of communication was no one’s fault but Bruce’s, so Dick held his face into a pleasant smile. “Hey Bruce, something you want to tell me?”

“Fuck you too, Dickface,” Todd grumbled. “Can’t even be bothered to say hello.”

Dick blinked wildly as something split wide in his chest. He had Jason’s memories? That was deranged.

“He’s not a clone,” Bruce said, sliding off the cowl. He looked exhausted, though there was satisfaction curling at the corner of his mouth.

“Damn fucking right I ain’t no clone.” Jason gestured to himself using a flat hand moving from head to hip. “I am one hundred percent original and authentic.”

Dick stared as his brain struggled to process the information, gears grinding against each other and producing a horrible screeching instead of a rational thought. “But you’re dead.” Dick winced. That was not the most tactful thing to say, but it was the only response he could generate. Jason was dead and gone.

Jason shrugged. “I got better,” he said as though that was a thing that actually happened to people.

Dick turned his attention to the mini-Bruce.

The kid scoffed. “I am no clone. I am Father’s true son and rightful heir.” He puffed up like a bird, sticking his nose in the air. Judging by the way Jason was grinning, the kid did that a lot.

Dick turned back to Bruce, who was looking at the boy with a mixture of fondness and worry. “This is Damian. His mother is Talia Al Ghul.”

Dick.exe crashed. Did not compute. Bug in the code, Blue screen of death. Thankfully Bruce could tell and waited patiently for Dick to come back online. “You slept with Talia?” and there was definitely judgement in that question. “No, wait!” Dick held up a hand. He didn’t want to know anything about Bruce’s sex life ever again. “Does this mean Tim isn’t a clone?”

“Timothy is a wounded animal and it is our duty to rehabilitate him so we can reintroduce him to his natural environment,” Damian supplied with a seriousness that did not befit a small child, though Dick was being to suspect that was the kid’s standard operating mode.

Dick turned to Bruce, who honest to god shifted his weight from foot to foot. “Tim is not a clone,” he confirmed.

Dick pointed at his mentor. “You are going to explain and you are going to buy me cereal. The good cereal with extra marshmallows.” He pointed at the two boys. “You are going to hug me,” he demanded.

Jason grinned and pushed a skeptical Damian forward. “Is this truly a tradition of this household? I do not understand why a warrior as great as my Father would find use for this ceremony,” he grumbled as he stepped into Dick’s arms, resigned to the touching. Dick held on tight, only letting go when the kid sniffed disdainfully. “How long is this supposed to last?” Dick chuckled as he released the kid.

He turned to Jason, who was both looking vulnerable and looking like he was trying his hardest to not look vulnerable. It was a common expression for him once he’d finally started relaxing in the Manor. “Little wing,” Dick took the step forward, folding Jason against him.

“Dick,” Jason whispered, “I thought I was never gonna see you again.” WIth that he burst into sobs, holding the other boy tightly, as though if he let go they’d both spiral away, separated forever.

“I’ve got you,” Dick murmured. “I’ve got you, little wing,” And Dick would be damned if anyone ever took Jason from him again.

X-x-x-x-x-x-x-

Tim laid in bed as he had for hours. He hadn’t fallen asleep but had drifted into a light fugue. Time was passing faster than it would if he were truly awake, but his eyes were burning with fatigue. He didn’t know the hour, though light was filtering through the curtains and Alfred had knocked on the door earlier. Something about breakfast. Or had it been lunch? Tim didn’t know or particularly care.

What he did know is that Alfred had searched the room while he’d been out and had confiscated his black tea. It was just one more consequence of his stupid plan.

Tim pulled the comforter tighter, pushing his face into the pillow. It really was too bad that it was impossible to suffocate oneself with their own pillow, as that would have provided him a handy solution to all his issues while not requiring him to get out of bed.

There was a knock at the door and Tim sighed as he waited for it to go away. Instead the door opened, and Tim could tell by the lack of footsteps that it was Other Bruce. Tim closed his eyes, hoping that if he feigned getting the sleep that everyone had been nagging him about that Other Bruce would just go the fuck away. Instead the bed dipped as the man sat on the side farthest from Tim. He sat in silence for several minutes making Tim think that he’d eventually leave on his own.

“Tim.” Damn. No such luck. “I know you’re awake.”

Tim turned farther into the pillow. “Go away,” he muttered. The bedding might muffle his voice but Other Bruce was a smart guy. He’d figure out the meaning.

“We need to talk.”

Tim snorted. “Talk about what? How you’ve kidnapped me?”

“Yes,” Other Bruce said simply. Tim rolled, positioning himself so that he could stare into Other Bruce’s face. Once they’d made eye contact, Other Bruce continued. “How I handled bringing you here was inappropriate.” Inappropriate, as though there was an etiquette to kidnapping people. "I should have approached you with my concerns and have tried to use reason as to why coming here was in your in your best interest. I'm sorry."

Tim felt his jaw drop and knew he was gaping, but he had never ever heard an apology from Bruce. Ever. Even directed at other people who deserved one after Batman complicated their lives. Dick had on one occasion confided to Tim that Bruce had tried to apologize to him once and blood had began to trickle from every orifice. The man was incapable of asking for forgiveness.

"It's fine?" What the hell was one supposed to do when The Batman apologized?

Other Bruce sighed and Tim got the feeling that he'd given the wrong response. "I've also been unfair to you. I've made demands without offering you anything tangible in return. I'd like to try this again."

Tim propped himself up on his elbows. "You mean, negotiating?" Batman didn't negotiate. He demanded the universe be different and it complied.

"Yes."

"Why this? Why now?" Tim demanded. What was going on?

"Dick yelled at me," Other Bruce confessed, as though that actually happened. Dick had always seen Bruce as his own personal Jesus. Even when he'd left for Blüdhaven in a rage, Bruce had been the head of a church, just one that had taken its worshipper for granted.

Bruce picked at a nonexistent loose thread on the bedding. "So what are your demands?"

This was a trap. Or a test. Or a hallucination. "Don't put me in a cell." Other Bruce's eyes pinched, so Tim plowed on. "Yes, I threatened the Justice League but the end result proved that I'm not in a position to be an actual danger. And with you and Nightwing in the Manor I won't be able to pose that much of a threat again."

"Tim," Other Bruce hesitantly placed a hand on Tim's shoulder, letting it drop away after Tim's immediate attempt to shrug it off. "A cell was never on the table. You and I both know that you had no intention of hurting anyone. You could have done considerable more damage than music. You could have disabled the Zeta tubes to maximize casualties and changed the temperature to more than mildly uncomfortable. You could have turned off the air filters. You could have cut the power. If your intent had been to cause harm you would have caused harm. Pick something else."

"Coffee," Tim said, calling Other Bruce's buff. If this was a trap Tim planned to spring it.

Bruce rubbed the bridge of his nose. "Fine."

"Really?" Tim stared hard, looking for signs of lies. There had to be a catch.

"Really. But but there are stipulations.” There it was. “You can have a maximum of four hundred milligrams of caffeine a day."

"That's barely any!"

"That," Other Bruce said sharply, "is the recommended daily limit."

"Oh come on," Tim protested. "More is perfectly safe. I'd have to switch to caffeine pills before I'd be in any danger of overdose."

"The long-term risks of too much caffeine outweigh the short-term benefits." Other Bruce sounded like he was reciting one of those pamphlets at the doctor's office. "They include alterations of mood including nervousness and irritability, and inability to sleep. Prolonged exposure can result in irregular heart rate, delusions and seizures."

Tim gave him an incredulous look. "Who hurt you?"

Other Bruce honest to god rolled his eyes. "I enjoy a cup of coffee as much as the next vigilante but I also know my limits. We need to get you back to the point where your blood has more red blood cells than caffeine molecules."

"I was never that bad," Tim grumbled. He bled red and had the scars to prove it.

Other Bruce levelled a flat stare. "When we first met you chugged a can of Zombie Maker, which contains six hundred milligrams of caffeine. You were averaging three cans of that a day on top of what you drinks you ordered to the office, which always contained a minimum of two espresso shots."

Other Bruce winding up and clocking him in the face would have been less of a shock. “How long were you stalking me for?” And how had Tim not noticed? How close had the man gotten? How many times had he been in Tim’s safe house? Was this how Batman felt when Tim showed up knowing his secret identity? No wonder the man resented Tim. This was deeply unsettling. Tim was unsettled.

"Four hundred milligrams," plus what Tim could sneak. It was better than eating dried tea leaves. Bruce held his gaze and it became obvious the man wanted confirmation.

"Fine." Tim let himself slump back into the bed, moving his arms so they tested in his hair above his head. "I suppose you want something in return." They were, after all, negotiating.

"I want you to redo the cyber security for the Justice League." Tim could feel his eyebrows trying to escape his forehead as they climbed up his face. "It has become obvious that our system is compromised and you have already demonstrated that you have the knowledge to improve it."

Tim tugged at a strand of his hair distractedly, his mind churning with modifications he could make, programs he could install. "You can't honestly be trusting me with this." It was an insane idea. "Won't it ruffle Superman's cape?"

"That man needs to learn how to iron," replied Other Bruce as though he wasn't a billionaire with a live in butler.

"Have your even ever touched an iron?" Did he even know what one looked like?

"I've used an iron," Other Bruce said, offended by the accusation. "I threw it at Scarecrow. Then I punched him in the face."

Tim couldn't help it. He laughed out loud. It was clean and honest, free of the bitterness that tinged his recent humor, and he felt it cleanse some of the tension out of his chest. He could perfectly picture the stuffy doctor's absolute shock at having something as mundane as an iron was thrown at him. He'd probably squawked at the indignity of it all.

"I'll handle all objections from the Justice League," Other Bruce continued once Tim's chuckles had faded.

“You really want me to do this? Are you comfortable leaving me alone in the Batcave, or is someone going to be looking over my shoulder?” Nightwing seemed better with computers in this universe. He’d probably be able to make sure that Tim wasn’t up to anything too diabolical. Not that Tim was going to. Never use the same plan twice, especially if it failed the first time.

Other Bruce shook his head. “You’ll be operating out of Mount Justice,” as though there were no glaring issues with that idea.

“You do realize I attacked the team, right?” Tim said slowly, pointing out what should have been obvious.

“As heroes, it is important for them to learn to be flexible in their alliances. There will be times when teaming up with people they see as unsavory may be necessary. It is also important that you socialize with people your own age with common interests." Tim supposed punching criminals counted as a shared hobby. "Basing you in Mount Justice is the most beneficial for everyone.” Other Bruce made the idea sound so practical. Then again, Tim shouldn’t be surprised. The man had managed to convince an entire city that prancing around dressed as a bat and punching criminals in the face was a practical solution to high crime rates. Not that it wasn’t effective in Gotham, but the idea should not have resulted in taxpayer dollars buying a giant spotlight.

Tim sighed. “Fine.” Tim propped himself back to sitting, rubbing at his arm. Other Bruce was being cooperative, so now was probably as good as a time to ask as any. “Are you really going to let me go home?” Tim hated how vulnerable asking the question made him feel.

Other Bruce paused, picking his words with the precision of a surgeon choosing where to cut. “I don’t know how you came to be in Bart’s future, but it is my every intention to return you home when your health has stabilized.”

“My health is fine.”

It was Other Bruce’s turn to sigh. “It’s nearly lunch and you missed breakfast. Get cleaned up and come downstairs to get something to eat. I’ll have Alfred put a pot of coffee on.” He left the room as silently as he entered it, leaving Tim alone with his thoughts.

Not that were many. He knew his mind should be racing, making plan after contingency plan for the changed parameters of his stay, but mostly he felt blank. Like an empty wall. He wanted to just roll over once again and let the day go by without him, but Other Bruce had promised coffee.

It was enough motivation that Tim was able to drag himself into the shower, letting the hot water pour over him. He dressed in clothes Alfred much have purchased as they fit perfectly and were soft against his skin while still being what Ives would have called stuffy.

Feeling slightly more human, Tim made his way to the dining hall. It was empty. He should have known it would be empty as so far they'd taken every meal in the kitchen with Alfred, but force of habit had dictated Tim's path. Fortunately the kitchen was close.

As he approached Nightwing's laughter could clearly be heard, and Tim couldn't help but once more feel like an intruder.

Tim would enter the kitchen and an awkward silence would fill the room. Damian would break it with an insult about Tim's unworthiness to the Wayne name or the Robin legacy. Bruce and Dick would remain silent and Tim would snipe back only to be chastised. Take the high road. He's just a kid.

As though Damian hadn't stabbed him and pushed him off a ledge, leaving him to die bleeding, broken, and alone at the bottom of the Cave. As though he hadn't cut Tim's grapple line in a fit of temper. Only a conveniently placed flag pole had spared Tim from some serious hurt. But that was okay because Damian lacked social skills. He'd been raised by assassins, this was to be expected.

But Damian had never tried to kill Dick or Bruce or even Cass and Barbara, because Bruce would have flipped. Damian's blades had always had Tim's name on them because Tim was the only person who was socially acceptable to stab. After all, if Damian had killed him he only would have removed the Pretender from the household, not one of Bruce's actual children.

Dick's laugh came again, and Tim had to remind himself that this was a different universe. He was a guest here so the rules of hospitality applied. Besides, it wasn't like Other Bruce had found Damian yet.

He pushed open the door to the kitchen. A casserole sat in the center of the table, a delicious smell wafting from it. It was untouched, as though they'd been waiting for Tim. It was another adjustment. In his universe it would be half gone. Nightwing and Other Bruce both offered Tim smiles at his presence while Jason and Damian both looked at him appraisingly.

Jason and Damian. Holy fuck when did Other Bruce find them? Was that why he was gone? Tim had thought he'd been following up a lead, not pulling a rescue op. Why hadn't he told Tim, allowing the boy to at least put on some body armor before being forced into a confrontation?

Damian eased out of his chair with an assassin's grace. He looked eight or nine, close enough to his Damian's age for Tim to be leery. "I am Damian Al Ghul Wayne, Bruce Wayne's true heir." He gave a curt bow. "Father has informed me," the boy announced, "that it is considered tradition to greet family members who have been long parted with an embrace." He wrinkled his nose in obvious distaste. "I have been informed that I qualify so I must take part in this ritual."

Was this Damian's way of asking for a hug? There was no way was Tim letting him that close. He was fond of his remaining organs. "I don't count," he threw out quickly. "I'm a.. " Prisoner? No, that made Tim sound vulnerable. Visitor? That enforced that he was an intruder. "I'm a guest," that was nice and neutral, "and therefore that rule doesn't apply to me."

Damian looked pleased by this conclusion. He moved to go back to his chair as Nightwing spoke up. "Ah, don't be like that, baby bird. You let me hug you."

“Hey, baby bird!” Dick spun away from the Batcomputer, a wide smile spread across his face. It lacked the grim edging he'd expect from a night hunting down the Joker, and he knew that his own expression was sour. Despite being the person running the intel on the Joker case, Tim had been pulled from the field, the only concession Bruce would make about Tim and Jason's ongoing 'feud'.

It made Tim scoff. Feud was just a sanitized description of Jason 'accidentally' trying to murder Tim, who spent just as much time upgrading his armor against bullets as he did anything else these days. He found angry curling of Jason's lips the last time a shot had landed but not drawn blood a strong motivation.

"Hey, Dick." Tim winced. He sounded exhausted to his own ears. While everyone else had gone after the Joker, Tim had investigated Two Face, which involved less observing and more jumping into the middle of a mob war to save some kids who hadn't joined his community gang initiative. He was only lightly bleeding and was already planning another bullet related upgrade on his suit armor.

"Guess what?" Dick's smile was lighting up his entire face.

"Caught the Joker?" Tim really hoped they had. The man was a monster of the highest degree.

"Well, yeah," Dick flicked his wrist dismissively, as though that had been a given. As the only man to successfully murder a bat, it was not. "But more importantly, Damian got into the Titans!"

Oh dear god, someone was going to die. "Are you sure that's wise? Titans East is still a fairly new team. I don't know if they are prepared for someone as contentious as the homunculus." Translation: they've yet to be attacked in their own tower.

Dick's expression tightened and Tim felt his stomach drop. No. No way. "He's joined Titans West." Tim's Titans.

"I thought the rule was only one bat at a time."

Dick's face folded into a frown. "You haven't run a mission with them for over a year, Tim. I don't think you have the right to claim them as your team anymore."

Tim felt his blood turn to poison in his veins. "I was looking for Bruce!" And fighting the Council of Spiders and thwarting Ra's with only Tam, a civilian, by his side.

"Yes, and then you came back and you still haven't checked in with them!"

Because Tim was waiting for an apology! A visit or a phone call or even a goddamn fruit basket! The last time he'd seen Cassie she'd accused him of being crazy, just like everyone else. He hadn't been. He'd been right. And now that he was back everyone was ignoring that as though they'd been there to support him all along, as though he hadn't been making life or death decisions knowing no one would find his body if he failed.

"You're giving Damian the Titans just as you gave him Robin! You're taking everything from me, Dick. What the hell am I supposed to do now?!"

"You could try growing up," Dick snapped. "Damian is a child who needs our support, and every time I try to help him you make the conversation about you, Tim. You're an adult. It's about time you started acting like one!" Dick turned back to the computer. "Besides, it wasn't just my decision. Cassie approved it."

Tim had never felt like less of an adult in his life. He felt as though the ground was shifting beneath his feet and he had no one to reach out to. Bruce wouldn't speak to him after Captain Boomerang, Dick was pulling this bullshit and Kon was fucking dead.

What was Tim supposed to do?

Retreat. When unsure and outmaneuvered, retreating and regrouping was the wisest decision. He turned to his bike, keys still in his hands, only to stop and stare. Damian had found his way into the Cave and there was no way he hadn't missed that fight. Steeling himself, Tim walked towards the Ducati, keeping his eyes on the bike.

"Running away, Drake?" Damian gloated. Tim clenched his teeth. "As well you should. Soon I will have reclaimed everything that was rightly mine to begin with and you will be in the gutter with the rest of the he trash. It's where you belong."

Tim looked behind him. Dick was tense; there was no way he hadn't heard the comment. As usual. And as usual he was silent.

Fine. Message received. It had taken Tim a while to get it but he was there now. He had thought that this would been impermanent, but as with so many other things regarding this situation, Tim had been wrong.

He threw a leg over the Ducati, the engine rumbling to life underneath him. He was sixteen. He was legally emancipated and had a job as a CEO. He didn't need anyone.

He wouldn't be back.

"Breathe, Tim, breathe!" That was Bruce's voice. He was his fake calm voice, the one he used when he was panicking as Bruce but didn't want anyone to know. The last time Tim had heard it was when Damian had demanded a pet elephant because a simple 'no' to the real son wasn't feasible.

And oh. Tim really wasn't breathing. At least not right. His chest was burning as his gasped over and over, getting no air each time. He couldn't make it stop. Why couldn't he make it stop? Was this how the victims of Joker Venom felt? Knowing they needed to breathe and just not being able to?

He couldn't make it stop.

Bruce grabbed Tim's hand, placing it on his own chest. "Like me."

Bruce took a slow breath in, his chest expanding under Tim's palm. Tim tried to imitate, tried to hold the gasps in. Bruce let a slow breath out. Tim managed to sputter an exhale.

"We're going to breathe to the count of ten. And in." Bruce inhaled slowly. To the count of ten, just like he'd said. Tim counted in his head. He could manage that much. "Now we hold for ten." Bruce's chest went still. Tim bit the inside of his cheek, vainly trying to keep his mouth shut. The moment he did he started to choke, his nose plugged.

Was he crying?

"Easy." Bruce put his hands on Tim's shoulders. "Tell me five things you can see."

Tim could do that. He couldn't breathe but he could do that. "Your watch," he choked out. It was a gift from Selina, something she'd picked up relatively cheap, but the pertinent fact was that she'd actually bought it instead of lifting it off of some poor schmuck. "The clock," which looked like an antique but was actually fairly new. Alfred had found it charming and bought it at a farmers' market. It was hand carved out of hickory. "The floor," hardwood, but was all Tim knew about it. "Plates." Not the good China. No one in the Bat family could be trusted with fancy dishes.

Tim scoured around, looking for grasping for something else to say. "Your shirt!" He blurted. Bruce's shirt. That was a stupid thing to say.

"Good. That's good," and who the hell had replaced Bruce with a pod person. "Now four things you can hear."

"You." Once again an inane response. Of course he could hear Bruce.

"What else?" Bruce pushed.

"My heart beat." It was hammering so hard his ears were thrumming with it. But he was breathing normally again."I'm good." He pulled out of Bruce's grasp and the man let him. "I'm good."

"Tim," and Bruce was still using his soft voice. "You had a panic attack."

"I'm aware," Tim snapped, conscious of all the eyes on him. He wiped at the tears tracks on his face. So much for not revealing any weaknesses.

"You've had one before." It was not a question.

Tim didn't respond. He'd been having them off and on for years, though the first time someone had witnessed one was the goon guarding his cage on behalf of the Riddler. The man had felt as awkward as Tim had about the whole ordeal and they'd silently agreed to just not mention it.

"I'm going to go back to my room," Tim dodged. He should have gone with his instincts and stayed in bed.

"I'm sorry," Nightwing said.

A full thud echoed across the room as Damian buried a knife in the table between Nightwing's fingers. "You will be silent lest you make the situation worse," Damian hissed like a cobra ready to kill.

Bruce gave them both a considering look. As he came to the conclusion that they weren't going to actually kill each other he turned his attention back to Tim. "You need to eat."

Tim needed to leave. "I'm fine. Not hungry."

"I will ensure Timothy eats," Damian announced like it was the obvious conclusion.

Now that was a dilemma. Bruce was looking particularly mulish, which meant that Tim was not going to get out of this meal. So it was either him eating here in shame in front of anyone, or eating with the murder brat. Neither was ideal, but Nightwing and Jason were both staring at him with pity. It was going to get old fast.

"You aren't allowed in my room."

Damian sniffed. "The Manor is of an adequate size. I am certain we can find an appropriate room to dine in," he said patronizingly.

Okay. Damian it was.

Chapter Text

Lunch with Damian was uncanny. Now that they were out of the public eye, Tim had expected an attack or, at the very least, a creative threat. Something about Damian’s own importance and Tim’s place as only an unpleasant interloper.

Instead they sat in a den with a hearth which Damian had dubbed as quaint but suitable for their purpose. There was fresh wood stacked in the firedog, ready to be lit at a moments notice as a pale cobblestone chimney disappeared into the roof.

They’d shuffled the furniture close to the coffee table to place the food instead of attempting to balance it on their laps like heathens. Damian’s words, not Tim’s.

They picked through their casseroles in near silence. Every once and a while Damian would crane his neck over to see Tim's plate before his face creased into a frown. A few times he opened his mouth to speak, probably to offer some criticism on how Tim held his fork, but would bite off whatever he was going to say before it popped out his mouth.

It left Tim feeling wrong -footed and he began to crave conversation to fill this strange silence. He cast about for anything that he could use to talk to a small assassin about that wouldn't result in a fight.

"You don't like the food?" That was a terrible question. That was a fight me question. Why was Tim like this?

But it was also warranted. Damian had dissected his casserole and was pulling pieces of it off to the side.

Instead of snapping, it caused the younger boy to freeze like a fawn in the headlights. The image was disturbing and not something he’d every associated with Damian before. He flipped the grip of his fork into a position better suited for stabbing before relaxing and switching it back to eating mode. "I am a vegetarian," he admitted, as though it was a dark secret.

That wasn't actually a big deal? "If you tell Alfred-"

"No! No one must know. I have already said too much." Tim could see the amount of effort it was taking Damian to not threaten Tim.

What happened to the Damian who demanded food then threw it against the wall? The Damian who arrogantly claimed every room in the house as his. This vulnerable Damian was surreal. "Why are we not telling anyone?" Tim let his honest confusion bleed into his voice.

"Tt." Damian clicked his tongue, but Tim could see him considering the question. He eyed Tim before nodding as though he'd come to a conclusion. "Mother has given me to Father to conclude my training. If I fail here…" Damian took a steadying breath. "If I fail here I will find no welcome in her home. Therefore it is important that I do not disappoint Father or give him cause to turn me away."

There was so much wrong with that. For starters, Talia was a bitch. Unsurprisingly but still worth noting. And insecure Damian was new. Dick had always claimed that deep deep, deep deep deep down Damian was a real boy, but Tim hadn't been able to see it while dodging knives. And why the hell was Damian confiding in Tim? He asked a question about food, not Damian's greatest fear.

The part of Tim that made him Robin, a mediocre one but still Batman's sidekick, couldn't let this go. "As long as you don't purposely kill someone Bruce won't turn you away." Or even if he did, but Tim didn't want to give Damian a carte blanche on murder. "Show Alfred respect, don't maim Bruce's other kids, and you will get along fine with the man."

"Yes, I was informed of these rules earlier, but I find it doubtful that they are the only ones." Damian radiated frustration the way a lamp radiated light. "There is the unexpected tradition of hugs that has formal rules, which means that there are other traditions I am ignorant of."

Tim was comforting Damian. How had this become his life? "You will be educated on them as they arrive. Bruce understands that you won't know them all. And if one makes you really uncomfortable, tell Bruce and he will probably let you out of it."

Damian still looked doubtful, but less stressed. "In the League of Assassins, disobedience was not tolerated."

"Here we compromise." Wow, that was weird to say. It was stranger to know it was true. "Tell Alfred about being a vegetarian. He will be distressed to find out later, as it prevents him from doing his duties." That should appeal to the murder baby. “He prides himself on accurate intel.” There, put it in terms that a mission oriented murderer would understand.

Damian nodded reluctantly. He eyed Tim’s plate once again. “I will speak with Father’s servant, but only if you finish your meal."

What? “What?” Tim felt like he had whiplash from the sudden shift in conversation.

“I promised Father that you would eat. I will not fail in that duty.”

Tim could feel his mind racing, trying to figure out where this behavior was coming from. “I did eat.” He pointed at his half empty plate. Other Bruce must have told Damian something, but Tim had no idea what could cause Damian of all people to act like a cranky mother hen.

Damian sniffed. “That is hardly enough to sustain a child, and you have already failed to attend one meal today. You will eat.” There. That last line was a threat. At least that put Tim in familiar territory.

“Or what, you’ll stab me?” Tim scoffed.

Damina’s face clenched in rage as his hands shook. He slammed a fist against the coffee table. “I will tend to you and I will do an infinitely superior job than that imbecile Todd. Now you. Will. Eat.”

What the fuck had Other Bruce done? Why would Jason be interested in taking care of Tim? Why did Damian make it sound like a competition? WHAT WAS GOING ON?

When no answer manifested itself, Tim decided to take the path of least resistance and took another small bite of the casserole. It tasted like mush, as did most things these days, but he managed to choke it down under Damian's watchful eye. The boy gently cajoled him in between bites.

Tim dry down his fork. "I'm done." There was still a lot left but if Tim ate anymore he was going to be sick.

Damian studied the plate with a critical eye. "I suppose," he drawled out, seemingly not impressed, "that is tolerable for now. We will do better next time."

We? Next time? WHAT HAD OTHER BRUCE DONE???

“I’m going to clear the dishes. You should find Alfred before he starts on supper,” Tim said rapidly as he gathered the plates, bolting out of the room before Damian could object. His mind raced as he made his way through the halls. Maybe Damian was drugged? Possibly high on something? Tim would need to check his pupils to confirm that, but he wasn’t willing to go in that room. Bruce could have threatened Damian. This one seemed like he might actually value Bruce’s opinion. It was weird to think how much of a difference being found verses being dumped in Bruce’s lap could make.

Lost in his own thoughts, Tim was unprepared for the wall of muscle he slammed into. He bounced off and hit the floor, the leftover casserole splattering across Tim’s shirt.

“Ah shit!”

Muscle memory was a wonderful thing. The moment the voice registered, Tim kicked out, spinning his leg to hook behind Jason’s ankles. The move was enough of a surprise that it took the bulkier boy down, giving Tim enough time to surge to his feet. He bolted down the hall, mindful to zigzag to avoid bullets. He wasn’t in his costume and Jason would be more than willing to capitalize on that to put a bullet in his back. But the hallway was long and narrow, and Jason was a damn good shot. He could hit a moving target with ease, so Tim ducked into the first room on his left.

It was a half bath, with a high set privacy window being the only other point of entry. In his early days of being Robin Tim might have been able to squeeze through, but despite everyone pointing out how scrawny he was he’d definitely filled out since then. Which meant that Tim was trapped with Jason hot on his heels. Stupid. The Manor was Tim’s home terf. He shouldn’t have fucked up like this. So stupid!

He pried the heavy porcelain lid off of the tank and crouched by the edge of the toilet. He propped the lid up and ducked behind it, hoping that between the lid, the toilet, and his ability to fold himself into a ball that he would have enough protection against the barrage of bullets Jason was about to send his way.

The impact against the door caused Tim to jerk before he realized that it wasn’t a gun but a soft knock. “You okay, kid?” Jason sounded genuinely concerned. Tim crouched down further. There was a beat of silence. “Right, so if you don’t respond I’m gonna come in.”

Oh god, Tim didn’t lock the door. No wonder Jason was so pissed with him. He’d come back from the dead to discover he’d been replaced with an idiot.

“I’m coming in.” The door creaked open just like in a horror movie. Long and slow with a whine that signaled all the evils about to come. Tim bit his lip to keep from whimpering. Jason was going to finish beating him to death. Great. He should have used the tank lid as a weapon instead of a shield. He wouldn’t be able to untuck himself from his spot soon enough to defend himself.

He heard the footsteps, which had to be on purpose. Despite his bulk Jason was as silent as any bat when he chose to be. The steps stopped fairly close and a hand closed around the toilet lid, gently pulling it away from Tim. He didn’t relinquish his hold, desperate for a barrier of some kind, even if it would do nothing to protect him. Jason could punch through porcelain as easily as he could wet tissue.

“Hey Tim.” Jason’s voice was the soothing tones the saved for the working girls when he’d rescued them from a bad john. He must have been crouching as well. “My name’s Jason, but you can call me Jay, okay?” Tim stayed still, like a mouse hiding from an eagle. He’d already been spotted, but it was far too late to do anything else but freeze.

“You’re tucked in there pretty tight. Need a hand getting out?” Jason was keeping up the soft voice.

Tim didn’t say anything, but he knew an opportunity was it came knocking at his door. He wiggled into a better position, easing his way into standing while Jason whispered encouragement. The moment Jason moved to stand, Tim struck, swinging the porcelain with all his might.

“Fuck,” the other boy swore as he slammed his palm into the toilet lid, redirecting the energy. Instead of smashing against Jason’s head it hit the sink, shattering everything. Tim stumbled over the toilet, his hands wrapping themselves around the glass as he grabbed a shard he knew could do damage.

“Fucking hell, Tim.” Jason took a step back, arms raised in surrender. “I take it the me in your universe is a prick.”

“On occasion,” Tim said, his voice eerily calm. It always freaked Jason out when Tim was calm. Probably because Jason hadn’t ever been calm in his life.

“Well, I ain’t him,” Jason declared, watching the shard in Tim’s hand.

Tim kept his face blank. He could feel the glass cutting into his skin with how tightly he was holding it. “How was your little swim?”

Jason raised an eyebrow at the mention of the Lazarus Pit. Tim wondered if he’d told Bruce that part of the story. “It sucked, but that ain’t what you want to know.” Jason gave a knowing nod. “I spent a week beating the shit out of anyone I could get my hands on while Talia gloated about her newest acquisition. Does that make you happy?”

Jason sounded sincere enough. There was the usual burn of anger in his voice, the one that only appeared when he was at his most cutting. It gave Tim enough pause that he loosened his grip on his makeshift knife. Jason was looking Tim up and down as though he had xray vision and was peeling back Tim’s skin to get a deeper look inside. “Your Jason tried to kill you, didn’t he?” He sounded disturbed, though by the notion or his counterpart’s failure, Tim wasn’t sure.

“Is trying,” Tim corrected just to be pedantic.

Jason’s hands tightened into fists and Tim clutched the knife harder. He could feel it growing slick with his blood. Much more and he wouldn’t have enough purchase to push it through skin. “Why?”

Tim couldn’t help his dark chuckle. “My fault. He went away and when he came back I was standing in his spot. You’d have been pissed too.”

“Hell yeah I would have been pissed. At Bruce. Not at you. It wasn’t your fault and oh fuck you are bleeding.”

“I’ve had worse,” Tim said dismissively.

“Yeah, but you were probably smart enough not to bleed all over Alfred’s floor.” Touché. “Now come on, put the sink down and I’ll bandage your hand. I promise not to kill you.” He held up three fingers. “Scout’s honor.”

Tim scoffed. “You were never a boy scout.”

Jason gave a wolfish grin. “True, but I once met Superman. I think that makes me one by proxy.” Tim gave a snort that was probably a repressed chuckle. “That’s right, now I’m just gonna take this,” Jason pinched the shard between his fingers before gently easing it out of Tim's hands so he could dump it in the remains of the sink, “And I’m gonna look at your hand.”

“Seriously Jason, it isn’t that bad.” It wouldn’t require stitches.

“It’s Jay,” Jason corrected. “And that requires stitches.”

“It’s fine,” Tim stressed, tensing his shoulders.

Jay sighed. “As soon as I'm done here," he waved a hand to encompass the mess Tim had made of the room, "I'm fucking taking care of it." That tone meant there was no getting out of this.

As the adrenaline faded Tim could feel shame take its place. He’d had a panic attack and destroyed a bathroom. How next was he going to fuck this up? Maybe by punching Alfred in the face? He and Other Bruce had finally gotten somewhere and now Tim was destroying his house.

Jay must have followed Tim’s line of thought. “Dude, he’s like a gazillionaire. He can handle replacing a sink. Go get cleaned up. You’re making me hungry again.”

Tim looked down at his shirt, his face heating at the smears of lunch across it. “I should get the plates.”

“Go,” Jay ordered. “I got this. Meet you in the cave."

Tim fled.

X-x-x-x-x-x-x-x

The domino felt weird, which in turn felt even weirder. He’d spend so many years wearing one and switching to a cowl had completely erased Tim’s comfort with something he thought was burned into his very core. He'd been denied his costume and was informed that Other Bruce would give it back once it fit again.

Nightwing was wearing a domino as well, the white outs hiding the glances he kept shooting Tim’s way. He was in full gear while Tim and Jay were both in civies by Other Bruce’s orders, with Jay having elected to wear sunglasses instead of a mask. He seemed content enough with that and was probably not comfortable donning the Robin costume so soon, given all that had happened the last time he had put it on. Tim was fairly certain that his own hoodie and jeans was a PR campaign to try and separate him from the image of Red Robin attacking the mountain. Either that or Other Bruce’s plot was to have Tim end up as bug smear. He’d managed to smuggle a few things from his harness onto his person just in case.

“I still do not understand why I cannot partake in this venture,” Damian grumbled.

“You’ll have plenty of opportunity to meet the Team when you are older,” Other Bruce repeated for the umpteenth time. “We will spend today bonding as father and son, just the two of us. It will be a great time.”

“Yes Father,” Damian agreed flatly, his eyes flicking to the bandage around Tim’s hand. Damian missed nothing. He scowled at Jay. “Todd, you will ensure that no harm comes to Timothy. If it does it will be on your thick head.”

“Love you too, brat.”

“You sicken me,” Damian hissed. Jay laughed loud and clear, which made Other Bruce and Nightwing smile.

Jay strode towards it with bravado before spinning back and launching himself into a quick hug with Other Bruce. “See you later, old man.” He dashed into the Zeta, disappearing in a subtle flash. Tim sighed and followed, Other Bruce’s eyes heavy on his back.

Recognized: __:__

Nightwing shook his head. “I still don’t get what you did to the computer to allow a silent call sign.” Tim shrugged. It was for him to know and Nightwing to speculate. Nightwing checked the computer in his wrist. “It looks like we are on time for our meet and greet. We’d better get going. It’s this way.”

Jay rolled his eyes. “It was my pulse that failed, not my memory. I remember where you guys do this.”

“Dude,” Nightwing looked scandalized under the mask. “Too soon.”

It made Tim’s lips quirk, a small distraction from meeting the team. Batman’s approval felt like it meant less when the man wasn’t in the room.

It didn’t take long for them to reach the briefing room, where all of the Team had gathered. As planned, Jay and Tim stood hidden in the doorway, where they could hear but remain invisible until Nightwing brought everyone up to speed.

“Hey Team,” he greeted as though he wasn’t about to drop bombs on them. “I’m sorry I disappeared before our briefing, but Bat-stuff came up.” Tim knew exactly which smile Nightwing was wearing. It was his “I fucked up but you love me anyway,” smile, which he overly relied on.

“You mean that Red Rooster guy,” Wonder Girl said sounding pissed. “Is he in a League cell yet?”

“Red Robin and no? It’s kinda complicated.”

There was the growling of a large animal, which rumbled under Superboy’s voice. “Then uncomplicate it,” he ordered, sounding like he was moments from introducing Nightwing to the wall. Yeah, this didn’t sound like it was going to go well.

“Red Robin’s an ally. We just got off to a bad start-”

“He attacked League headquarters!” Wonder Girl protested, her voice rising. “He knows who we are and threatened us!”

“I’m sure he had his reasons,” Impulse cut in. “Tim always has his reasons.” The table broke into a cacophony of voices, and Tim couldn’t tell who was for him or against, though Wonder Girl was definitely the loudest detractor.

“Enough!” Nightwing slammed his hands on the table. “Batman has decided that Tim is going to help out the League and you will all handle that in a manner befitting this team.”

“You haven’t explained anything!” Superboy bellowed. There was a course of support for that statement, but a clear groan from Impulse.

“I’m showing him the moon,” came Nightwing’s nonsensical reply.

“What does that even mean?” whined Beast Boy.

There was a thump as someone slammed back into a chair. “Fine,” Superboy growled. “But if this goes wrong it’s on you.”

“Hey Tim,” Nightwing called, “come formally meet the team.”

Tim stepped into the room, scanning for the greatest threats. Superboy actually seemed relaxed despite his previous anger. Beast Boy was… Beast Boy was a small child. No, focus. Existential crisis later.

Beast Boy was not currently a threat, though Blue Beetle looked ready to go a few rounds. Batgirl was Barbara, young and still walking. She looked like she was evaluating Tim as thoroughly as he was her. Miss Martian was also giving him an intense stare. A guy in a gold helmet looked curious, and a dark skinned girl had the expression of a scientist with a new subject to study. Tim didn’t know who the Atlantian was, but the dude was obviously pissed, with his face fins twitching. There was also a giant whitte wolf that was quietly growling.

Wonder Girl looked like she was three seconds from launching herself across the table and pounding the crap out of him. He was fairly certain that Batgirl had a hand on her thigh to keep her sitting. “You brought him here? To our base?! I thought you said he was going to be working with the Justice League?” Wonder Girl snapped, pushing Batgirl away. “Am I the only one who remembers that he attacked us?”

The Atlantean cracked his knuckles. “Oh, I remember.” Tim resisted the urge to fiddle with his pockets.

“Why is he here?” Batgirl asked, her voice leaking stress only if you knew how to listen.

Nightwing did his calm down hands. “Batman’s got him doing cyber security for the League. Here has the best access.”

“This Team and the mountain are supposed to be outside of Batman’s purview,” Miss Martian pointed out, another side for nay. “I’m sure I’m not the only one who isn’t comfortable hav-”

“S’up bitches!” Jay stepped into the room and it was like all the oxygen had been sucked out. “Guess who is back from the dead?” He gave his socialite smile.

Nightwing sighed. “This was not the plan.” Of course not. He and Tim should have both realized that Jay and other people’s plans were like cats and water. He could accept one, but only when it was his own idea in the first place.

“Clone?” guessed the guy in the gold helmet.

Jay fell easily into a chair. “Surprisingly no, but everyone keeps jumping to that. Miss M can do a head scan if it will make you all feel better.” On the other side of the table, Superboy flinched.

“Nope!” Nightwing kiboshed that. “Batman’s authenticated Robin. He’s the real thing.”

“You asshole!” barked Wonder Girl. “I can’t believe you faked your death.”

Jay’s laugh was chilling. “There wasn’t anything fake about it.” His smile had taken on a feral edge. “And anyway, as Nightwing was saying, this is Tim. He’s going to be working here and you are all going to fucking suck it up.” The Atlantean opened his mouth and Jay’s smile morphed into a glare. “I said suck. It. Up.”

The Atlantean’s objection remained unvoiced.

“I call dibs on giving Tim the tour! We are giving Tim the tour, right? Come on, Tim! I’ll show you everything!” Impulse was tugging Tim out of the room before Nightwing could save him. The last thing he wanted was to listen to Impulse go on about all the good times, and considering that the tour was straight to Impulse’s dorm, Tim was certain that that was what was going to happen.

The room was boring and bare, standard League with no personal effects to jazz it up. The moment the door was shut Impulse engaged the lock and flipped on a white noise generator, protecting the room from snoopy ears.

Impulse pointed at Tim meaningfully. “You are a fucking asshole.”

“Excuse me?” asked Tim, nonplussed. Where the hell did happy to see him Impulse go?

Impulse ran a hand through his hair. “Don’t get me wrong. It’s totally crash that you are finally here, but it’s so mode that you didn’t tell me you wouldn’t be here when I arrived.”

Tim raised an eyebrow. “I’m not psychic. You need to use your words to actually explain what’s going on.”

“I’m from a future where everyone who isn’t dead has been enslaved by the Light. You sent me back to this time to help you prevent it, but you weren’t here when I showed up and then there was a memorial for a dead Robin and I thought I’d sent out ripples and that I was totally moded!”

Tim felt the adrenaline hit his blood, his mind tuning into the problem with crystal focus. This sounded like he was going to get to make a list. “Why did I send you back?”

Impulse paced around the room and Tim sat down on the bed so he didn’t have to spin to watch. “The Flash died. You were certain that was where everything started to go wrong, so you sent me back to save him.” There was a sharpness to this Bart, a focus that Tim’s had never had.

“You succeeded.” Tim had, after all, spoken with the Flash only a few days ago.

“Yeah. That was weeks ago. Where the hell were you?”

Impulse was genuinely confused and really fucking angry. Oh boy. “What did future Tim tell you about how I came to be here?”

“You said you were one of Batman’s kids. You survived the Meltdown mostly by fluke.” Impulse came to a halt, his focus entirely on Tim.

The Meltdown? “That’s it?”

“You didn’t like to talk about it,” Impulse said with a shrug, “I don’t imagine surving the end of the world was your idea of a good time. You got pissy about the lack of coffee a lot, though.”

Okay, so future him was an ass for making present him be the one to have to explain all this to an alternate version of his dead best friend. Do it fast. Like ripping off a bandaid.

“I’m from an alternate dimension where you and Kon are both dead. This world’s Batman decided to stage an intervention, so here I am. Future me probably didn’t tell you that I wouldn’t be here when you arrived because saving the Flash might have changed the events that caused Batman to kidnap me, which means that there was the very real chance of me never being here at all, and he likely didn’t want to risk you not saving the Flash to ensure my arrival.” And god was this going to give Tim a headache. He liked challenges, not Gordian knots made out of quantum physics.

“That… sounds like something you would do.” Impulse put a hand in his hair, scrunching it between his fingers. “Whose Kon?”

Tim’s face pinched. “Superboy?”

“Oh. Conner.” Impulse scrubbed his hand farther back, pulling at the hair. “I can see you and him getting along. You’re both cranky.”

Tim thought back both to their introduction and Superboy’s anger in the meeting. He wasn’t sure if it was comforting or not to know it wasn’t personal, that this world’s Kon wasn’t the fun, easy-going guy he’d known. “Did he give you any other messages to tell me? Any intel?”

Impulse was shaking his head before Tim finished the question. “No, man. No messages. Was given a summary of what to tell you, but you always said you were a bit distracted when the world ended, so some of it is probably guess work.” He plopped onto the bed.

“The Light’s had been working on the metahuman gene. They’ve been trying to both introduce and activate the metagene in people who were born without. One of their experiments escapes and kills the Flash and the Justice League’s reaction puts strain on media relations.” Impulse’s fingers are drumming so fast against his side they blur. “Now the Light eventually succeeds in building a virus based gene therapy, but it’s too effective. It ends up being contagious and spreads across the globe like wildfire.” The drumming stops as Impulse holds his hands up to illustrate. “Most people, when their gene activates, get this much power.” Impulse held his hands about a foot apart from each other. “But genes activated by the virus get this much,” and Impulse stretched his arms as wide as they could go.

Tim closed his eyes, the implications clear. “People lost control.”

“Those who survived the virus often died of their own power. Right near the beginning, before anyone really knew what was going on, someone in New York went nuclear and took out everything within a two hundred mile radius.” Including Gotham. Which meant Batman. Shit. “People demanded help and Lex Luthor starts giving away collars that will block abilities. The Justice League warns people that they’re a mode idea, but they don’t have anything better, because suddenly everyone, every burglar, every baddie is rocking superpowers and out for blood. The Justice League is barely limping along.

“And people are desperate, man, so they take the collars.”

Tim didn’t need to be smart to see how this ended. “And now Lex has an army of people wearing control collars.”

Impulse nods grimly. “Yea. You either get moded, elevated or scrapped. The Justice League gets wiped out hard and fast and a New World Order takes its place. There are a few groups of rebels, but no one really had a solution for everyone having out of control superpowers. You suggested time travel and basically got laughed out of the rebellion.”

“And then we met?” No wonder this Bart was sharper than his. Being a careless goof didn’t help you survive the apocalypse.

“Nah man.” Impulse leaned forward and put his arm on Tim’s arm. “I followed you. I will always follow you.” And Bart was dead serious. The weight of that statement was humbling and terrifying. Tim wasn’t the man Impulse trusted.

This was so messed up. “Why didn’t you go to the Justice League when you arrived?”

Impulse let his hand drop. “The missions you interrupted was supposed to be collecting a sample of variant Kobra Venom, something we’ve already failed at twice. I managed to grab a sample, but got clipped and it smashed all over me. Unless Kobra Venom now comes in cherry flavor, the sample was a bust.”

Tim pursed his lips. So the bad guys had known they were coming. Tim had invaded Watchtower, but the coding hadn’t suggested any other unwelcome visitor, which meant the Light must be getting their information the old fashioned way. “Traitor?”

Impulse nodded. “Yeah. League level, not Team. You never figured out who it was and assumed they died with the rest of the League.”

Dammit. Tim stood and started pacing around the room. God Fucking Dammit. Tim wanted to go home. That’s all he wanted to do, but he couldn’t just leave with the literal fate of the world on his shoulders. “Please tell me we have a bit of time.”

“You were vague on the timeline. Maybe six months. Maybe a year.” There was no way Future Tim didn’t know when the world ended, which meant he was being vague because reasons. As far as Tim was concerned it was because Future Him was a pretentious jackass.

"Okay," Tim let out a slow and steady breath. "So we've got six months to save the world." He was already drawing up a list.

1.Stop the Light.
2.Expose the traitor.
3.Appease Other Bruce.
4.Find his way home.

Laid out like that, it sounded so simple. It wasn't going to be. This world was radically different from his own, making his own assumptions a deadly enemy. His only ally was Impulse from the future, and he likely would find his resources restricted by Other Bruce, even if the man was being a little looser with the coffee. Plus he had to find the traitor before the traitor found him with the only edge being they didn’t know he was looking. .

Impulse picked at an imaginary thread on the bed. "I haven't actually gotten much done," he muttered, eyes on the blanket.

"You saved the Flash," Tim said reassuringly. He was terrible at this. It was why someone else had always been leader of the TItans. When Impulse didn't glance up Tim added, "You did a good job."

Impulse shot Tim an incredulous look, tinged with guilt. He'd never seen that expression on Bart before. Bart had never stopped to consider his actions long enough to feel truly guilty. "You aren't disappointed?"

And oh, they were going to have to nip that in the bud. "I'm not him. I'm not your Tim, I haven't lived his life. And you aren't my Bart." That twisted a knife in Tim's chest even though the differences were obvious. Tim's Bart, even after having his knee blown out, had been a ball of light, goofy and optimistic. This Bart was carefully composed of shadows as someone who had seen real suffering up close and personal. "If we're going to be an effective team, we'll both have to keep that in mind. We're strangers and we don't know each other."

Impulse got off the bed with a bounce and approached Tim, his hand outstretched. "Hi. I'm Bart Allen and I'm from a post apocalyptic future. My favorite color is red and eating a pluot is on my bucket list.

“I’m Tim,” he took the hand and gave it a shake, the bandages stinging as they pressed into Tim’s hand. “I’m from an alternate dimension, my favorite color is also red and yesterday I broke Batman’s sink.”

Chapter Text

Tim was having his existential crisis. He’d only been able to put it off for so long.

Garfield was thirteen if that. Like Tim, Beat Boy was never going to be the biggest hero out there but right now he was just so tiny. How had this timeline managed to develop a Beast Boy who was easily a decade younger than the one in his own universe? Were the core events the same? If so, why? If not, why were the end results similar? Was Garfield Logan just destined to be Beast Boy? And if he was, why did Tim not exist? What caused one person to have replicated experiences despite all odds while another just ceased to be? Tim had dealt with time travel, he knew the future wasn't immutable, which gave him no mechanic he could use to explain child-Bart's presence. Unless it was and Bart’s presence here ensured that he’d go back to his world to grow up to be gun Batman.

“He’s pretty creepy,” Beast Boy stage whispered, shaking Tim out of his own thoughts. Jay had grabbed Tim for food and some of the Team had elected to join them, though Tim was fairly certain it was for gathering intel and doing damage control than it was harmless curiosity, which was actually good. It demonstrated a high degree of experience and Tim pegged those who’d forgone getting food with him as the junior members of the Team. At least, he hoped they were junior as it beat being incompetent.

Never pass up an opportunity for intel.

Tim was sitting across from Beast Boy and Superboy with Impulse at his side. Batgirl, Miss Martian and Gold Helmet (and wow Nightwing was bad at introductions) were a barrier between Tim and the rest of the Bats.

"Kaldur did what?" Jay’s voice floated down from the end of the table. “And you didn’t love me enough to go evil when I died? I’m really hurt.” It was the same strained humor he used to hide genuine pain.

Tim could almost hear the echo of Jason’s voice overlapping Jay’s. “You didn’t love me enough to stop from replacing me. I’m really hurt, B”

“Eyes up here,” Superboy growled and Tim blinked. He must have been staring at Beast Boy again. Way to creep on the youngest person in the room. He debated apologizing, but figured he'd say nothing and maintain that Bat mystique.

But he did shift his gaze to Superboy, who maintained the same mulish look as he had every time they'd met. Bart had said that he was cranky, so Tim supposed that it was default look. He appreciated that. It made it easier to separate him from Kon in his head.

Resting with his head on the table, the giant wolf was also watching Tim warily. The animal was uncanny and given its unusual size there was no way it was completely natural. It's eyes were too intelligent.

"What's his story?" Tim gestured at the wolf with his chin.

"That's Wolf," said Superboy curtly.

"And he's got a sphere named Sphere. We don't let Conner name things anymore," Batgirl's eyes sparkled with humor.

"Because Batgirl and the Batcave and the Batcomputer are so much better." Superboy's eyes narrowed in accusation.

"That was all Nightwing!" Batgirl said defensively.

"I heard my name?" Nightwing asked, strolling down with his plate, obviously on his way for seconds.

"We're talking about everyone's inability to give things original names." Batgirl gave a mischievous smile.

"Hey! I'll have you know that Nightwing is very creative and original!" Nightwing defended indignantly.

"It's literally ripped straight from a Kryptonian legend," Tim added, enjoying throwing Nightwing under the bus.

"It is?" asked Superboy and Tim could feel an awkward tension thickening the air.

It clicked. Bart hadn't recognized the name Kon and the clone was always angry. His ignorance of Clark's favorite Kryptonian legend (he told it so often that Tim didn't know why he didn't just run an article in the Daily Planet and be done with it) all indicated that the rift between Superman and Superboy hadn't been mended yet.

At the silence, Superboy scowled. "Nevermind. I don't care." He was fooling no one.

"Tim!" Nightwing shifted the room's attention. "You haven't eaten much."

Oh no. They were not having this fight here, not was Tim admitting the cut in his hand made holding a fork awkward. He wasn't sure Nightwing even knew about the wound. "I grabbed a snack when Bart showed me the kitchen." He hadn't. Beside him Bart did not even flinch at the lie, making him Tim's favorite.

Nightwing still looked suspicious, but given how tentative the truce was between Tim and the Team he let the matter drop, though Tim suspected that he was going to tell Other Bruce as soon as he saw the man. Goody.

“Hey,” Miss Martian piped up loud enough that everyone at the table could hear her. “We should all spar after lunch.”

Nightwing looked uneasy. “Maybe not the best idea, Miss M. We haven’t really tested the waters with Robin yet.”

“That’s Nightwing speak for him not wanting me to freak out and kill you all.” Jay’s shit-eating grin dropped as Tim flinched, yesterday’s conversation still obviously on his mind.

“So have Robin watch,” Batgirl added. “That way he’ll be able to see all our new moves and when we wipe the floor with him he won’t be able to claim it was because he was caught unawares.”

“Fuck you, Barbie,” Jay flipped a finger. “I’m always prepared.”

“It will be great for Team morale, especially after our last mission,” pushed Miss Martian. “We can build our skills, blow off some steam, and include Tim in a Team activity.”

Okay. Wow. Vindictive Miss Martian. Tim had not seen that coming.

“Nope. Not happening,” Jay announced.

“Yeah. We’re under pretty strict orders to bring Tim back in one piece,” Nightwing explained.

Excuse me? “I’m sorry, but did you just suggest that I can’t handle a spar?” Tim’s voice was artificially pleasant, the one his Mother used right before she laid into someone.

Nightwing tensed, obviously aware that he was once again in uncharted waters. “No, not suggesting that at all.” He waved his hands in a panic.

“Dude, I’m sure you kick ass, but coming back from the dead won’t stop Batman from grounding all our asses if you show up with so much as a bruise,” Jay defended.

Tim could lie as well as he could disassemble a half truth. They both thought that Tim wouldn’t be able to hold his own. Well, fuck them. “I’m in,” Tim announced with finality in his tone. Jay swore, Nightwing facepalmed, and Miss Martian smirked.

“That’s great!” The martian’s voice was artificially chipper. “We can all meet in the training hall in a half hour.”

“Ohmygod,” Impulse whispered reverently, obviously aware of the subtext of the conversation. “Does this place have security footage or do I need to find a camera? I need to immortalize this moment.”

“Excuse me a sec,” Nightwing said, setting his empty plate back on the table and grabbing Tim by the elbow, leading him to the corner of the room. “What do you think you are doing?” He hissed.

“Sparring,” Tim answered blandly. “It’s a perfectly normal vigilante activity, unless you don’t trust your team not to use disproportionate force?”

They both knew that the Team was going to try hard to put Tim in his place for his stunt with the Hall of Justice, but Nightwing couldn’t admit it without proving that he didn’t trust his team, which was something no leader should ever do. Tim wasn’t his to command, and calling Batman to prevent this wasn’t feasible. Tim had Nightwing over a barrel and they both knew it.

“What about yesterday?” Nightwing hedged.

“I have no idea what you are talking about,” Tim answered primly.

By this time Jay had marched over, a thundercloud hanging over his head. “Back out. You aren’t doing this.”

Tim’s eyes flashed. “I really am.”

“Like fucking hell you are. You’re-”

“If you say delicate you will never see my revenge coming.” He poked Jay in the chest. “I’ve survived worse than this,” Jay grimaced, recalling what he’d learned yesterday, “and you aren’t in a position to stop me.”

Jay looked to Nightwing for support, but the other man held his hands up in surrender. “Fine,” Jay snarled, “But I reserve the right to interfere if it looks like it’s going south.”

“I can live with that,” agreed Nightwing, looking relieved at the compromise.

Tim curled his lips. “You won’t be needed. Now if you’ll excuse me,” he infused his voice with ice, “I need to go stretch.”

“Fine,” Nightwing sounded exhausted. “But let the record show that Jay and I tried to stop this.” He stalked off, grumbling to himself. Jay shot Tim a parting look before following Nightwing.

Tim went down to the training hall. It was an impressive room, carved out of the cave to high have a high roof and rounded walls, with doors spreading like roots into the mountain. A round black inlay had been installed on the floor, a moderate AI program designed to register performance. It was an exciting engineering feat.

Tim really did start to stretch out, using a weight bench to get his limbs at the right angles. He hadn’t maintained his exercise regime at Other Bruce’s, and things that should be loose were a little tight. His hand also needed a bit of a stretch, as there seemed to be pressure on the stitches. By the time he was feeling limber, the Team had filtered in and the need for violence filled the air.

Good.

“Alright everyone,” Nightwing crossed his arms in obvious displeasure. “Miss M invited Tim to spar with us today. Standard rules apply. Hand-to-hand only. No powers, no gadgets, ring outs count as losses and when the computer calls your opponent down you stop.” He stressed the last word. “Who’s going first?”

“Ooh! Pick me,” Wonder Girl waved excitedly. “Me and Tim! It will be fun!” There was a cutting edge to her smile.

Bart burst into the room, a cell phone and a bag of popcorn in his hand with a put out Jay right behind him. “Did we miss anything?”

“We’re just getting started,” answered Superboy.

“Oh boy!” Bart sat down. “Give me a minute to set this to record.” He fiddled with the phone. “Antiques are so weird.”

Jay rolled his eyes. “Give me that.” In no time they had the device pointed at the ring.

“And go!” Impulse held the phone in one hand and shoved popcorn in his mouth with the other. Despite Jay holding the bag, he wasn’t partaking, watching with a grimness that was usually reserved for missions.

Tim and Wonder Girl both stepped in, Wonder Girl slamming her fist into her palm. “I bet you aren’t feeling so smart right now, wise guy.”

Tim had heard better smack talk out of Gotham goons. He filed it away as something for Nightwing to work on with the team. “Being smart isn’t really necessary when one has an army of robots at their disposal.” That barb landed, Wonder Girl’s body going rigid with temper. She’d obviously had a bit of trouble in the Hall of Justice.

She charged him, telegraphing every movement in the set of her shoulders and the flicking of her eyes. He dodged backwards, moving like water and allowing her punches to slide past, staying just out of comfortable reach. “You’re lucky you have a team because you wouldn’t last as a solo act.”

“You. Ass!” she snarled between punches, failing to connect each time. Judging by the whistling noise they were starting to make, Wonder Girl was definitely violating the no powers rule. That was fine by Tim, as each attempted blow was sloppier than the last.

She took another step forward and as she threw the punch, Tim sidestepped with a spin. He used his momentum to drive his elbow into the centre of her back, forcing her to stumble a few steps. She turned, fists up and ready to pound on something.

“Match!” called Nightwing.

“What?” Wonder Girl cried out. “He barely hit me!” she protested.

Nightwing pointed at the floor. “Ring outs count as losses,” he repeated. She probably would have looked less surprised if Nightwing had up and slapped her. She turned to Tim accusingly. “You did that on purpose!”

Tim stared at her, keeping his face blank as disapproval rocked him. It had been easy to lead her to the edge of the ring, her need to punch him outweighing her situational awareness. Wonder Girl was fairly young. She had to be new. And everyone being out for blood made them unfocused and sloppy. “Yes.” He kept his tone as empty as his face. “It’s called tactics.” Did she really think he was going to stand there and let her punch him? She had super strength.

“It’s my turn to take on Tim!” called the Atlantean.

Nightwing also needed to teach the team about subtlety.“I know we’re all excited to have someone else here but this is team training. Everyone will fight once before we go back to the top of the order.”

Off the hook for now, Tim made his way over to where Bart and Jay were sitting. “That was so crash!” Bart gushed.

“You did good, kid,” Jason said, as though he wasn’t five minutes older than Tim. There was grudging approval in his voice. “But that tactic is only gonna work once. If you stop now you’ll be undefeated and I won’t have Damian trying to crawl up my ass.”

Tim rolled his eyes. “Duh.” Tim was hardly a one trick pony. He leaned back to watch the rest of the matches, cataloging strengths and weaknesses. Superboy and Miss Martian were both actually good, which given their power sets was surprising. Miss Martian could go an entire battle without needing to throw a punch, and Superboy had enough brute force to compensate for any lack of finesse and a thick enough skin to handle a blow. That’s how Kon had fought.

Blue Beetle was tied for worst with the Atlantean, La’gaan, Bart had supplied helpfully. Blue was probably just as untrained as he was in Tim’s universe. He’d get better. La’gaan likely wasn’t used to the physics of dry land, though he also fought with an arrogance that did not match his skill. Someone would beat that out of him or it would get him killed.

After Beast Boy lost against Batgirl, a good show of skill for someone as young as him, Nightwing motioned Tim over. “Okay, so since you were picked last time, it’s your turn to choose your opponent.”

“Superboy.” A wave of shock rippled through the room. They must have thought he was going to pick someone easy. Tim preferred a challenge.

“Yeeeessssss,” hissed Impulse. “So sweet.”

Jay gaped and he and Nightwing both shared a look that Tim recognized. It was the shared commissary of brothers who both knew that Batman was going to kill them. The rest of the Team had settled into varied reactions. Most looked pleased that they were going to see Superboy dish out some justice on Tim, though a few were looking for the trap. He was proud to see that Batgirl was on the latter list.

Superboy looked wary as he entered the ring. It pleased Tim that the Kryptonian was being cautious around him.

“Go!” Nightwing called.

Superboy backed up, putting space between him and Tim so he could figure out exactly what Tim was up to.

Tim was having none of that.

He charged straight ahead, jumping over Superboy into a handstand, causing his hand to flare in pain, and hooked his feet around Superboy’s throat. The momentum carried them both and Tim tossed the alien across the arena. Tim used the motion to roll back to his feet, charging at Superboy who had managed to save the landing and was now on one knee. He kicked out and Superboy caught his leg. Tim used his opponent’s strength against him, stepping into the hold and bringing his knee into Superboy’s face. Surprised, the alien fell backwards. Beneath him a sensor began to whine.

“Match,” said Nightwing, and Tim wanted to scoff at his surprise. He was a real vigilante, could restrain his own bad guys and everything. Just because alternate Batman had benched him didn’t mean he lacked skill.

Tim bent down, offering a hand to the alien. Superboy eyed it for a moment and when he came to the conclusion that it wouldn’t bite him, accepted it. Tim pulled him up in one smooth motion, and he could see the beginnings of respect in the Kryptonian’s eyes.

Tim turned to address the room. “Well, this has been fun,” at least Tim had enjoyed himself, “but I’ve got work from Batman that I need to be doing.” He turned to Nightwing. “If you need me you know where to find me.”

He marched out of the room, resisting the urge to shake his stinging hand. His only regret that he didn’t have a cape to flutter dramatically behind him.

X-X-X-X-X

Tim typed at the keyboard, the lack of clicking from the electronic interface taking something away from the experience. He had three screens up, all with complicated coding.

Fixing the Justice League security wasn't actually a difficult task. The existence of Oracle had forced everyone to up their coding game and the lack of her here gave the advantage to Tim. The problem was that the best solution involved rewriting the base code, which would take time. He was fairly certain he wouldn't need to upgrade Watchtower's hardware, which was one thing he could cross off.

But a software update this big came with disadvantages. Tim was debating handling them later rather than sooner, but as much as he wanted to procrastinate, it would compromise his already tenuous position with the League.

Tim shook out his hand, the stitches burning from all the typing, and settled himself in for an awkward conversation.

"This is Watchtower," answered a cheery voice, and Captain Marvel appeared on the screen.

"This is Red Robin," Tim said in the Voice. This was, after all, a business call.

Captain Marvel's eyes grew wide. "The same Red Robin who hacked the Watchtower?" his voice was hushed.

Tim fought back a sigh. He reminded himself that he'd expected this. "Yes."

"That. Was. So. Cool!" Captain Marvel practically bounced in his chair. " I mean, it was bad that it happened at all but you must be super smart to have pulled that off!"

"Um. Thank you?" Tim offered, stunned at the enthusiasm.

"The Flash said that you know who EVERYONE is, which is super nifty. Do you know who I am? Tell me who I am!" Captain Marvel smiled gleefully, leaning in closer to the screen.

"This isn't a secure channel." The Justice League archived all the communications footage for future review and there had been a lot of Drama when Tim's League had figured out that they had a ten year old on their roster, though Tim privately thought they were jealous because the kid could go toe to toe with Superman.

Captain Marvel waved his hand dismissively. "Everyone knows and they've been swell about it."

Tim was helpless to resist in the face of Captain Marvel's enthusiasm, the hero acting like Tim was about to do a stupendous magic trick so Tim gave in. "You're Billy Batson and you received your powers when you were ten." No telling how old he was now, so Tim had hedged his answer.

"Golly," said Captain Marvel as he slumped back into his chair, wonder on his face. It morphed into suspicion. "Did Batman tell you?" he asked, reproach crawling into his voice.

"No, he didn't." Batman had made him figure out everyone's identity through detective work. "He didn't even tell me his identity. I figured it out when I was nine," Tim said the last in a conspiratorial whisper.

"Whoa," said Captain Marvel, looking suitably impressed. "You are awesome and I forgive you the music."

That startled a laugh out of Tim. "I appreciate that."

Captain Marvel shrugged like it was no big deal. "The Flash explained that it was Bat stuff, so no one is too salty about it. Except for Superman, but that makes sense because kinda a-" Captain Marvel cut himself off, though his distaste was clear.

"A dick?" Tim guessed.

"I won't confirm or deny that."

Tim saw an opportunity that would either blow up or pay out. He was in a gambling mood. "This is about Superboy."

Captain Marvel sighed. Jackpot. "When he named Conner we all thought it was going to be better. He did help him with his powers, but then he got all weird again when he realized that Conner wasn't aging. He just went back to the way everything was before, which was actually worse than just ignoring Conner in the first place."

Hold up. "Superboy doesn't age?"

Captain Marvel nodded. "His organs do so he isn't immortal or anything, but nothing else."

Tim blinked, glad for the whiteouts hiding his reaction. "And no one had fixed this?"

"How?" Asked Captain Marvel. "The Cadmus labs are all destroyed and no one in the League is exactly an expert on cloning."

Tim was an expert on cloning. He wasn't going to mention that now, lest someone ask why he was an expert, which would get really awkward really fast.

"So what's up?" Asked Captain Marvel. "I appreciate the call, but I doubt you called just to chat."

Tim gave a sharp nod. "I'm upgrading Watchtower's electronic security."

"Let me guess, we're going to have to turn everything off while you load the upgrade?"

And thank god Tim had gotten someone who knew computer basics. "Exactly."

"I'll bring it up.” Captain Marvel promised. “Do you have an exact date?"

"Not yet, but probably in two weeks or so. There is a lot to go through here."

"Right. Forewarned is forearmed and all that." He gave a soft smile. "Thanks for the heads up. I should probably get back to work though "

They said their goodbyes, leaving Tim feeling better than he thought he would. Captain Marvel was a happy camper in any universe it seemed.

It left Tim feeling positively cheery as he typed, his good mood enough to put the stinging of his hand out of his mind. He was making good progress when Jay stealthed into the room. He was silent, but Tim could see his reflection in the monitor.

"Hey Tim," he called. "Home time."

Tim waved him away. "I've got a little left to do here."

"Awe, it's cute that you think that was a suggestion," Jay said, a fondness in his voice that was completely at odds with Tim's memories.

"No, seriously. Having a breakthrough," Tim tried again.

"No, seriously, Damian will take an organ if I don't bring you home in time for supper."

That… was plausible. The boy seemed unnaturally fond of Tim. It would probably pass, but Tim would ride that train for now. Still he grumbled as he vanished the keyboard, putting on a show of displeasure.

The met up with Nightwing, who had switched to civies and sunglasses, by the Zeta tubes and said their goodbyes. Most of the team had thawed a bit towards Tim, with Superboy offering a small wave with his scowl while Bart’s arm blurred with his wave.

They met Alfred at the end of the ally and Tim had squished himself into the seat behind the butler, the best position to avoid small talk about the day. Given Jay's enthusiasm about the team's latest gossip- Superboy and Miss M actually broke up can you believe that shit- it wasn't hard to dodge conversation.

They walked into the Manor where Damian and Bruce were waiting.

"How'd your day go, little D?" Dick said with a grin.

Damian scoffed. "That is a ridiculous appellation and I will not lower myself by responding to it."

"Damian and I went shopping after we visited the zoo," Bruce tossed out in an effort to keep the peace.

"Man, you need to take me shopping," whined Jay with an undercurrent of jealousy.

Bruce nodded. "I had hoped to go Saturday. The used book store you liked is advertising a new shipment of classics coming in that day."

"Fucking sweet!" Jay punched the air in victory.

"What'd you buy?" Dick asked curiously.

"Knowing him, knives and poison."

"I hardly need to obtained items I have at my disposal, Todd." Damian said seriously. Tim was fairly certain that Nightwing was the only one who thought it was a joke. “I purchased several instructional manuals, as Father believes that they will be the fastest way for me to acclimate myself to the social niceties of the Gotham elite.”

That wasn’t a bad idea. Damian was a bit of a control freak so putting him in charge of his own learning would likely expedite it. It also provided the boy with an activity that should keep him busy for several hours instead of leaving him to find his own way to fill his time, which usually ended in violence.

“How was the Team?” Bruce asked, his voice deceptively casual. Had he been worried?

“Weird,” Jay admitted as they moved from the foyer and into a hall. “A whole bunch has changed and not for the better, and no one really knew what to say. No one laughed at my zombie robin joke either, which is ridiculous because I am fucking hee-larious.”

“And you, Tim?” He almost stumbled. Bruce never asked about his day. They’d discuss cases closed and leads to follow, but no casual conversation about the contents about how the day had gone. Maybe he was just concerned about how everything was coming along.

“I need to rework the League base code, so I don’t expect to have definitive results for a week. I’ve already spoken to the League about scheduling a day for the instillation of the new software.”

Bruce gave him a look and once again Tim felt as though he’d failed a test. “I meant, how did you find the Team?”

“They were fine.” Ahead of him Jay and Nightwing both froze and Tim didn’t know how they pulled off secret identities while being so obviously transparent.

“What happened?” Bruce asked, falling into a serious tone.

“We sparred. It was a good bonding moment.” Jay and Nightwing were still looking like Alfred had caught them smoking.

“You sparred,” Damian hissed. “Todd, I was under the assumption that your brain damage had healed enough to understand what I meant when I said that ‘no harm’ was to come to Timothy!”

“Hey,” Jay snarled back, “chill. He didn’t take a single hit, okay?”

Damian pointed at Tim. “He’s pale.”

Tim pointed at himself. “This is my natural color.”

Bruce frowned at Tim. “I agree with Damian. You look a little flushed. How are you feeling?”

“I’m fine.”

“He didn’t eat lunch,” Nightwing chimed in, just as Tim suspected he would.

“Your eating habits are a problem,” Damian said as though he was starting a mission brief. “As such I have ordered Father’s servant-”

“Alfred,” Bruce corrected.

Damian rolled his eyes. “I have ordered Pennyworth to transition you to a soup based diet, as it is obvious that you find solid foods to disagree with you.” Wait? What?? Damian was putting on a meal plan?!! “We have already discussed a menu that will be palatable and highly nutritious, provided Todd’s ignorance does not get you killed.”

“Why do you keep blaming me?” Jay asked, obviously bewildered. “I told him not too and it’s Dick’s team. He was the one that let it happen.”

Damian turned his sharp gaze onto Nightwing and started to reach behind his back. Bruce set a hand on that shoulder. “We don’t stab family members.”

Damian glared at Nightwing with a look that said ‘safe for now’ as he eased his arm back. “You will not allow such a thing to occur in the future,” he ordered.

“Why don’t we go to the media room,” Bruce suggested, “we can pick a movie.” An activity where they couldn’t talk to each other. A wise choice.

After a brief but vicious squabble, Bruce chose, picking a film that had come out while Jay was dead but also dealt with the importance of social relations, though that last bit was lost on Damian, who kept up a commentary on how killing each character would improve the plot. The call to dinner was, for once, a relief, though as promised Tim was fed soup. Damian was right, it was a little easier to eat, though Tim would never admit it. Just as Damian would not admit to the wisdom of speaking to Alfred about his eating habits.

After supper, Tim claimed that he was retiring to his room to read, though truthfully he was just going to curl into bed. He’d had a relatively easy day but nonetheless was feeling bone weary. He pulled the comforter up to his chin, wincing at pulse of pain it caused his hand.

Sleep, for once, came quickly.

Chapter Text

Tim woke up with the knowledge that something was deeply wrong.

Everything was burning, as though his very skin was made of lava and radiating enough heat to burn through his blankets. But that didn’t make sense because everything was wet, as though he’d gone swimming in his clothes and had tried to dry off by laying in the sun instead of using a towel like a sane person. And he was a sane person, no matter what anyone thought.

And the cherry on this shit storm sunday was that Tim’s arm throbbed in time with his heartbeat, badly enough that he wished his heart would just stop.

Something was deeply wrong and Tim needed help. He rolled over, feeling for his phone in the dark. He kept it on his nightstand when he went to bed, in case someone called with an emergency. The only thing he found was an empty space where it should be.

He wanted to weep with frustration. Had he been drugged? Kidnapped? The fact that there were nighstands indicated Ra’s could be involved.

Tim’s hand touched a light and had to turn his head when it was like driving needles into his eyes. He blinked away the pain, casting a look around the room.

Okay, not Ra’s. The Manor.

Why was he here?

No. No time for questions. He needed help. There was a landline in the den. He could make it to the den and call Steph.

Wait. No. He couldn’t call Steph. She was dead. No, she wasn’t dead, Leslie had faked that. She’d… betrayed Tim? Right, on Batman’s orders she stirred up the gangs so Tim could once again prove that he was a ‘good’ robin. It was a test. Everything was always a goddamn test. And then she’d told him that he was the crazy one, as though plunging the city into chaos in Batman’s vague orders was a perfectly logical thing to do.

But who else was there?

Alfred slept on the other side of the Manor. Tim doubted he could make it there. And Bruce would test Tim, make Tim prove once again that he deserved his mask, as though he hadn't done that a hundred times before.

Dick. Dick would help. They weren’t brothers (they never had been) but Dick liked to help people and Tim liked to think that, at the very least, he still counted as human to Dick. As long as Damian was asleep, Dick would be willing to help Tim.

That decided, Tim pushed himself out of bed, the world spinning around him. He gave himself a few seconds for everything to realign before hauling himself out of bed, stumbling into the wall. He reached out with his good hand, dragging it along the wall as though it was some kind of banister. He could do this.

Concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other, Tim dragged himself down the hall, being as silent as he could so he didn’t wake the homunculus and get finished off in his weakened state. So determined Tim was that Tim almost missed Dick’s the door.

He raised his hand to knock and let it hover there as doubt assailed him. What if Dick was angry that Tim woke him? What if he just didn’t care and closed it in Tim’s face? What was Tim going to do then?

What choice did Tim have?

He rapped on the door, the impact travelling down his arm and into his bad shoulder, making him hiss in agony. There was the immediate sound of shuffling, he’d definitely woken Dick. Of course he had, it was the middle of the night.

Tim swayed where he stood and it felt like the first time he’d been at sea, the boat rocking unforgivingly.

It took forever for Dick to open the door. He was shirtless. Right. Dick slept naked. He’d probably had to grab pants. Jesus, Tim was an inconvenience.

“Tim,” he asked in confusion, rubbing sleep out of one eye. He let out a big yawn. “It’s the middle of the night, what are you-” He ended the sentence abruptly and Tim was fairly certain that Dick was staring at him, noting his sorry state. DId he think Tim was a failure?

Dick placed a wrist against Tim’s forehead. “Okay, buddy,” his voice was low and gentle and Tim let out a little sob. Dick wouldn’t use that voice if he was going to turn Tim away. “I need you to answer a few questions for me. Just yes or no.” That was simple. Tim could do that. “Have you thrown up?”

Tim shook his head and boy, was that a terrible idea. Everything seemed to move away from Tim, becoming pinpricks on the horizon, as Tim felt his legs give out beneath him.

Dick grabbed Tim by his shoulders and Tim let out an agonized whine, the iron grip carving its way into Tim’s arm. Dick mercilessly pulled the limb up because he was secretly a sadist, his hand skinning Tim as it slid down his arm towards his wrist.

Dick let out a shuddering breath, as though he was the one in pain. “Okay Tim. We need to go to the Cave. I’m going to carry you, alright?”

Tim knew that he should protest being treated like a damsel, but honestly if Dick told him that prancing naked through Gotham was going to make this go away Tim would do it. “Kay,” he croaked out, his voice as weak as he felt.

One arm was moved to behind Tim’s knee and there was pressure. The next thing Tim knew was that they were headed through the clock.

Dick took the stairs with an acrobat’s grace, as though he wasn’t carrying awkward dead weight, and deposited Tim on the gurney. Tim was feeling okay about this until Dick grabbed his hand and started pulled at the bandage. He might have screamed.

“I’m sorry,” Dick whispered. “I’m sorry. Just a little more, okay?”

The putrid smell of rot hit the air and Tim gagged. Maybe he really was going to throw up.

“Fuck,” whispered Dick. That wasn’t right. Dick never swore. “I’m going to hook you to an IV, Tim. It’ll just be a pinch.” Dick stood, probably to go grab the supplies and Tim caught his arm.

“Good arm,” he whispered. He would literally die if Dick tried to put it in the other.

“I’ll use the good arm,” Dick promised, pulling away from Tim, leaving his hands empty. The Dick was clicking a bag into the IV tubes, a catheter already in Tim’s arm. “Tim, can you hear me? I need you to respond.”

Tim wrinkled his nose. “Loud.”

“I need you to tell me about the cut, Tim. How’d you get it?” Dick was pressing urgently. It must have been important, but Tim couldn’t remember. Everytime he tried to cast his mind back his head grew fuzzy, so Tim tried to narrow down plausible options.

“Mugger?” he guessed. They tended to use knives.

“I’m going to give you a tetanus shot, okay Tim? Another small pinch, right?” Tim grumbled. He hated tetanus shots. “It’s better than tetanus,” Dick promised and whoa, Dick was reading minds now.

Did he know how selfish Tim was? He’d always been just a replacement but he’d fooled himself into believing that he could be more, that maybe he could fit. Bruce had adopted him, had given Tim his name, but in the end that had been more about the Mission than it had been for any familial sentiment. Tim’s presence had been a tactic.

One that had become obsolete once Damian arrived. Tim never loved Damian. Bruce did. Dick did. Hell, even Jason might have. But Tim hadn’t found it in himself to love someone who’d tried to kill him on so many occasions.

That’s what Tim had been reduced to. A moving target. He wished that someone had warned him before the third attempt on his life. But maybe that was punishment. Mabe Bruce was hoping that Tim would get put down like a dog before he needed to do it himself.

Dick was rubbing his hand through Tim’s hair. “It’s okay, Tim. It’s okay, but I need to cut the stitches. I promise I’m going to take care of you. ”

That was a lie. Dick had Damian, Damian who was Dick’s Robin. He’d given Damian the costume and left Tim in the dust. He’d promised that in return they’d be equals, but when Tim had figured that Bruce was alive, Dick had suggested Arkham.

Pain flared in Tim’s hand. He definitely screamed, and the smell of rot grew stronger.

“It’s necessary,” Dick promised. “I need to drain the infection.”

Tim’s pain was always necessary. It’s necessary for Damian. You need to endure it for Jason. Handle it, Tim. That’s what Bruce had taught him.

“Oh, Tim.” Was Dick crying? Had he been hurt too? Probably not a mugger, then. Probably Tim fucking up, as per usual.

But Dick was still rubbing his hair, and that was actually pretty nice. No one had ever done that for Tim before. It was relaxing. He tried to fight sleep, so as not to lose this feeling, but in the end his vision faded to black.

Tim came to again, and everything was hot and loud. People were yelling. Oh, Tim recognized that voice. Dick.

Dick and Bruce were fighting, so just a usual Monday morning.

“You fucking promised no more goddamn secrets, B. What the fuck is this?”

“Calm down, Dick-”

“You said we needed to help him recover from trauma, that he wasn’t receiving the emotional support that he needed, not that his family was actively trying to kill him!”

“Dick-”

“THOSE ARE VERY DIFFERENT THINGS, BRUCE! Did it even occur to you that surrounding him by people who share faces with those who want him dead would only layer that trauma? Were you even-”

“I DIDN’T KNOW!” roared Bruce. He took a deep, meditative breath. “I didn’t know, Dick. I couldn’t watch him one hundred percent of the time, and the only file in the Batcomputer pertaining to this was Tim’s attempt on Captain Boomerang’s life. An attempt that Tim actively chose not to follow through on.

“Yes, I knew they weren’t taking care of him. I knew that he wasn’t taking his injuries back to the Manor, that his family had let him fall by the wayside. That man had adopted Tim, had given him the weight of the Wayne name and the company to go with it and then had left Tim to flounder, but I didn’t know it was this bad.

“I wasn’t keeping this from you, Dick. I promise.”

There was a ruffling, maybe a hug? And the voices faded to murmurs that Tim let carry him to sleep.

“Hey, gremlin. Whatcha reading?”

“Read the sleeve jacket, zombie.”

“You mean the one that doesn’t fit?”

“It’s none of your concern.”

“Alright, I’ll leave it alon- yoink!”

“Return that or I will carve out your liver with a spoon!”

“ ‘Parenting a Troubled Teen: Manage Conflict and Deal with Intense Emotions Using Acceptance and Commitment Therapy.’ What the hell, dude? You have a kid hidden somewhere?”

“Your lack of wit is astounding.”

“Fuck you, I’m a riot. But seriously, what’s with the book?”

“If you cannot discern its purpose then you are a fool.”

Tim drifted away before finding out why Damian had the book.

Tim hissed, a light stabbing into his brain. A firm hand held the sides of his face to keep him from twisting away. “Almost done, Tim. Stay still,” Dr. Thompkins ordered. Years of conditioning had Tim obeying unquestioningly. If he didn’t she’d use the big needles the next time he needed her help.

“How long has he been like this?”

“Thirty-six hours,” answered Bruce immediately. “We have him on broad spectrum antibiotics, but they are just holding everything at bay instead of helping him recover.”

“And what did he cut himself on?”

“Glass,” answered Jason. “And before you ask, I cleaned the wound, I stitched it using fresh thread and a sterilized needle and I covered it in an antibiotic ointment before wrapping it. “

Damian snorted. “And yet here we are.”

“Fuck you, gremlin.”

“I believe you, Jay,” Leslie answered, “And it bears repeating that I am glad to see you alive, though it would have been nice if someone had bothered to inform me about that fact.” The woman glared at Bruce, who squirmed under her gaze.

“As for your boy here, it sounds like he’s immuno-comprimised. Do you have a medical history?”

“Yes,” Bruce nodded, “But there was nothing to indicate that.”

“Dick,” she called out. “Can you help me move him into sitting. I need to check his breathing.” Tim felt hands push him up, the world once again going strange. Cold air made him shiver as it brushed against his sweaty back. He knew the stethoscope was going to be even worse.

He braced himself for it, but it never came. “I think,” Leslie said dryly, “that I’ve found the problem.” Everyone crowded around Tim, like he was an exhibit at the zoo. Leslie ran a hand down the scar he got from the Council of Spider’s whack job. “There is supposed to be an organ right there, and judging by the matching scar on his front, this wound was a through and through.”

“Timothy!” barked Damian. “Where is your spleen?” Of course Damian could tell what organ was supposed to be there. He needed to know the right place to shove a knife.

“Turkey,” Tim mumbled. “Ra’s probably kept it in a jar.” The man was weirdly obsessive like that.

“Apparently your medical history is lacking.”

“So I see,” and Bruce was doing his barely restrained anger thing. “It was last updated a year ago. I can see things have changed.”

Leslie ignored the tone, giving no shits about Bruce’s scary night job. Tim loved this woman. “You’ll need to increase his antibiotics. I’ll write down the doses and how much to increase them by if it doesn’t seem to work.

“I’ll also write out a prescription.”

“You mean this could come back?” Jason asked with worry. Tim should be worried about that. Something was off. One of these things is not like the other his brain sang. He giggled.

“He’s missing his spleen,” Leslie emphasized. “He should be on antibiotics for at least two years as his body adjusts to missing one of its major defense systems. You’ll also need to watch for cuts and illnesses. A simple cold could easily develop into pneumonia.”

Damian nodded gravely. “I will ensure that he follows a regiment. Unlike Todd, I do not intend to let him die.”

“This is so not my fault!”

“Blaming isn’t going to help anyone,” Dick cut in, playing peacekeeper. “We just need to concentrate on making Tim better, okay?” There was grumbling assent. “Now rub his head. He likes that.”

Tim was eased back down, and a hand began to work its way through his hair. “Like that?” Damian asked. Tim hummed, and let the darkness take him.

X-x-x-x

Tim woke up to a sweat soaked pillow and made a face, tossing the pillow to the ground where it could stay. He hated the mess of when a fever broke, which must have been what happened even though he could only vaguely remember being ill. Heat and pain were the only thing that clearly came through his thoughts. He tested sitting up and swung his legs over the edge of the bed; there was enough slack in the IV line to allow for the motion. He catalogued the room.

He was in the Batcave, which was better than being in a hospital, but not as good as one of his own hideouts. He needed to figure out why he was here, when he could safely leave, and then book it before Damian got the idea to thin the weakest from the herd.

He blinked at the Jason monument, the plaque reading “A Beloved Son Lost Too Soon”. Right, Other Bruce. That actually had him relaxing as his survival odds skyrocketed.

There was a shuffling noise behind him, and Tim threw a glance over his shoulder, where Nightwing was awkwardly sprawled in a chair. The older teen was waking up. “Tim,” He called, sleep heavy in his voice. Had he stayed with Tim? That was weird, but kind.

“Hey,” Nightwing smiled, unfolding himself and leaning forward. “How are you feeling?”

“I’m fine,” Tim shrugged. “Mostly tired.” Nightwing nodded as though he expected that. “What happened?”

“Your hand got infected.”

Tim held out his hand, frowning down at it in betrayal. There was a neat line of stitches that mocked him. “Jay cleaned it.”

“Apparently, when you are missing a major organ, that’s not enough,” Dick’s tone made deserts look humid. “If it hadn’t been for Dr. Thompkins, you probably would have died, which would have been very bad,” Nightwing emphasized the last part of that sentence, his eyes burdened.

Tim felt his spine go rigid. “What did I say?”

Nightwing shrugged. “Mostly that you didn’t think anyone would care if you died. But I’d care. As would Jay and Bruce. I think Damian would actually go fight the grim reaper to get you back, and he might even win. The kid’s got spunk.” That was one way of describing him.

Tim’s shoulders drooped. “I’m sorry for dumping that on you.” Apparently he babbled when he was sick. Great.

“It’s fine,” NIghtwing waved. “Now I need to comm Bruce. I finally got him to go to bed, and I promised him that I’d call in when you woke up.”

“If he’s tired you should let him sleep,” Tim told Nightwing. “I’ll still be here when he gets up.”

Nightwing ruffled his hair. “You are adorable, but I’m not suicidal. Be right back.”

Tim touched the part of his head where Nightwing’s hand had been. That had been weird.

Damian was the first one down the stairs, still wearing his pyjamas. Tim nearly gaped, knowing how his counterpart felt about the indignity of being caught in sleep clothes. Without hesitation he wrapped himself around Tim’s waist, holding tight. “It is customary to embrace after one party nearly expires,” he explained into Tim’s chest.

Tim stared at Nightwing, who made a patting motion with his hand. “There there,” Tim patted the top of Damian’s head. “I did not nearly die.”

Jay scoffed from the stairs. “You totally did, and let me tell you that I don’t appreciate you honing in on my schtick. One dead Robin is more than enough. How you feeling? And it you say fine I’m gonna put nair in your shampoo.”

That sounded like a serious threat. “Tired,” Tim repeated, Damian finally letting go of his waist.

The kid frowned at Tim. “You are also hungry.” Tim really wasn’t. “I will find Pennyworth and have him prepare soup. Zombie,” he called to Jay, “ensure that this time you do not kill him or-”

“Yes yes,” Jay rolled his eyes, “spoons and organs.”

Damian rushed out of the room, almost colliding with Other Bruce.

The man slowly approached the bed, as though trying to not spook a wounded animal. “How are you feeling?”

“He’s tired,” Nightwing answered for Tim.

Other Bruce nodded. “Any pain?”

Tim shook his head. “No pain, no dizziness, though I desperately need a shower.”

“You have to remain on the IV for a few more hours. We also need to go over your medical history.” There was steel in that tone, and it had Tim swallowing nervously. “How many organs do you have that don’t function optimally?”

“Just my spleen,” Tim promised.

“Which bones have you broken?”

“All of them,” Tim answered before his brain caught up to his mouth. Well, in for a penny, in for a pound. “I was pushed from the top ledge of the Batcave. Luckily, the ground broke my fall.”

Other Bruce looked anything but amused. Figuring he was on thin ice, Tim listed off stab wounds and where he’d taken bullets without prompting. He hedged around the explosion Armstrong had set, admitting to being caught in it but failing to mention that he’d been standing in the epicenter. With every injury listed, Bruce’s face grew cloudier. When he was done Nightwing let out a low whistle and Jay looked ready to shoot someone.

“That’s a lot of damage.”

“And most of it was not in your file.”

Tim gave a fake grin. “You know what they say. What happens with the Titans stays with the Titans.”

“The Titans?” Nightwing turned to Other Bruce.

“His world’s equivalent of the Team.” Instead of causing Nightwing to relax, the boy tensed further, but didn’t say anything.

Bruce clapped a hand on Tim’s shoulder. “Rest. Eat. Then we’ll see about getting you cleaned up.

X-x-x-x-x-x

The shower was, in a word, heavenly. Tim took twice the amount of time he needed, letting the water sluice down his skin, washing the scented soaps into the drain. By the time Tim was done he was completely relaxed and spelling like pine bark and mint. He wrapped himself in a bathrobe and plunked himself onto the bed. Alfred, bless that man, had already changed the bedding to something clean.

There was a tentative knock on his door, but Tim was too relaxed to open it. He couldn’t really ignore it though, given how he was certain would assume he’d gone and died on them. Everyone seemed very concerned about that. It was odd and maybe a little nice.

“Come in,” he called, sitting cross legged on the bed.

Nightwing entered the room. “I hope I’m not bothering you?” His smile was nervous.

Tim felt his relaxation slipping away. “Nope. I’ve got nothing going on.” Nightwing’s nervousness was contagious.

“Good.” He came far enough into the room to shut the door, but stayed far enough from the bed to ensure that Tim didn’t feel crowded. Tim didn’t say anything, content to let Nightwing dictate the conversation. “I lied to you!” he blurted. “About what you said while you were sick. Yeah, I mean you talked about that but you also said a whole bunch of other things.” Tim could feel his face both heat up from mortification and pale in fear. “No one else heard it!” Nightwing assured him. “Just me.”

“Thank you for being honest,” Tim said woodenly. What was Nightwing going to do with this information?

The older teen rubbed at his neck. “I don’t...ah. Sorry, I’m not great at this.” He took a steadying breath. “I’m not your Dick. I don’t know what made him that way, but I know it’s not how people are supposed to treat each other.

“Tim, I promise that I’m never going to just let someone hurt you. I get that you won’t believe me right away, and that we aren’t brothers, but I do want to be your friend. And friends look out for each other. So that’s what I’m going to do. Not because Bruce asked me to, not because Damian will likely stab me if I don’t, but because you’re worth it.

“And I get that you won’t feel the same. But I hope that eventually you’ll give me a chance to prove that I’m not that person. And even if you never believe, I’m not going to stop treating you like you belong here just as much as I do. Okay?”

Tim opened his mouth, and the words that came out were not the ones he wanted to say. “I can’t do this again. I can’t have you love me just to toss me aside again. I’ll break.”

“I’ll always be there. I promise,” Dick vowed sincerely.

Tim couldn’t suppress the sob that escaped from his mouth. It was followed by another, and then another, until he was a wreck. Dick sat down on the bed beside him, pulling him into a hug and holding Tim as he absorbed the words he’d been longing to hear for oh so long.

Chapter Text

The next three days were the weirdest of Tim’s life. Jay and Damian were having some sort of war that Tim was caught in the middle of, but the goal seemed to be spoiling him? Damian brought soup and plush pillows, while Jay kept Tim’s laptop fully charged and would, when the machine was no longer enough to hold Tim’s attention, honest to god read to him. Dick had smiled and laughed at Tim’s confusion, but had made no attempt to rescue him from all the attention.

Other Bruce was useless and had taken to snapping photos on his phone. Tim constantly had to remind himself that no one had been drugged and that he was in a literal twilight zone episode. It usually helped until Damian did something like find the newest CD of that band Tim liked.

Returning to the mountain, where everyone hated him, was more familiar ground and Tim was quite pleased when he’d been cleared to go. Jay, when he wasn’t coddling Tim, had been following Bruce around in the cave. He hadn’t pushed to spar, which was good as it showed that Jay wasn’t feeling particularly violent.The League of Assassins had played around with him for a while before they’d dumped him into the pit. There was no telling exactly how long he’d been awake for, and it was looking like less time rather than more, which was good. He’d been cleared for intel, put wasn’t yet allowed to spar with team. He looked relieved by the news.

But Jay would not be returning to the mountain today, as Bruce was not going to rescind his father-son bonding time. This created an unforeseen issue of who was going to watch Damian. Damian still occasionally referred to Alfred as Father’s servant, which implied a lack of respecting Alfred’ authority. Leaving him in the Manor with the butler would be a poor solution.

“He could come to Mount Justice with us. Meet the Team,” Dick suggested. “Socialization is very important in the development of someone so young.”

Damian sniffed. “Do not treat me like a child, Grayson, and I hardly see how being forced to spend time with incompetant adolescents would be a valuable use of my time.”

“Tim’s coming.” Tim did not like being used as a bargaining tool, even if it had given Damian a considering look.

“I suppose I could accompany you, as Todd was likely not clear enough in setting boundaries for how the Team is allowed to interact with Tim.”

Tim sighed, knowing that this was going to end badly but unable to do anything to stop it. He could only mitigate the damage. “We need something to call you.”

“Do you not go by your first name?”

“I technically don’t exist,” Tim countered. “Besides, Impulse told everyone before we could explain that it wasn’t a good idea.”

Dick smiled. “Little D! It’s perfect.”

“Fine, Grayson." Damian said as though he was suffering. “But if I discover this was just a ploy so you could call me that, the consequences will be dire.”

“Ah ah ah,” Dick waggled a finger. “It’s Nightwing right now. Code names only.” Damian hissed.

They fitted Damian with a domino when Tim had pointed out how easily sunglasses could be removed. The child was not impressed with the phone booth where the Zeta was kept.

They stepped through it into Mount Justice. “I supposed,” Damian allowed, “that is rather convenient form of travel.”

Miss Martian floated across the room. “Hey, Nightwing. We’ve missed you these last few days.” Tim felt a twinge of guilt. That was his fault. She crouched down, putting her hands on her knees so she was eye level with Damian. “And whose this little guy?”

“Do not speak to me with such condescension,” he hissed, “else I cut out your tongue, alien.”

Dick drew back, clearly not having expected that reaction despite Tim trying to warn everyone. Damian had always been milder among those he considered family.

Miss Martian pulled back a few steps with a precarious smile. Dick matched it in kind. “This is Little D,” he introduced uncertainly, clearly rethinking the idea. Which he wouldn’t have had to do if everyone had listened to Tim.

It was far far too late for second thoughts.

Damian looked around the room. “I had thought the base would be larger.”

“It is,” Dick assured him. “We’re only in the Zeta room. We’ve got a training room, a gym, a war room, living quarters, a kitchen, a hanger. Really anything you could need.”

“How efficient is the design?” Damian asked, walking towards a nearby doorway intent on exploring.

“Hold up,” Dick stopped him with a hand on his shoulder. “We can’t have you wandering around without meeting the team. I don’t need any misunderstandings.”

Damian put a hand on his chin, thinking hard. “I suppose it would be unfortunate if I were to kill an underling. Very well, I shall follow your lead.”

Miss Martian was still watching Damian as though he were a rabid dog. “Miss M, could you call everyone?’ Dick asked, looking strained.

“Oh, sure thing!” Her eyes flashed red for a second and she stood perfectly still. “Most of the team is in the games room. The rest will meet us there.” Apparently Miss Martian was fairly casual about using her psychic link in this universe. Tim took note to watch for any strange lags in conversation. It would be good to know when he was speaking to someone alone or to the entire team.

They made their way to the games room in relative tension, with Damian criticizing security measures and listing ways they could be countered and how his Father’s was more efficient. Given that it was an assumed form, it was fairly impressive that Damian had managed to cause Miss Martian to have a throbbing vein in her forehead.

When they entered, the tone of the room was reserved and Tim suspected that Miss Martian had warned everyone of Damian’s attitude. That didn’t stop Dick from introducing everyone to Damian by name (more than he’d done for Tim), and the small boy nodding at each greeting. He was probably already filing away weaknesses.

“And this is Little D,” Dick finished.

“Greetings,” said Damian. “As you know, this is Tim, who is also known as Red Robin. I have grown quite attached to him. If any of you peasants cause him harm, I will slaughter everyone in this room, including you Nightwing.”

Dick facepalmed and Bart dashed to Damian’s side. The assassin drew a blade, slicing only air when the speedster dodged. The attack didn’t cause Bart to stop grinning wildly. Damian paused at the expression, knife still raised.

Bart held out a fist. “Excellent speech! Pound it.”

Damian stared at the fist, clearly confused. He gritted his teeth. “This is clearly another custom of which I am unfamiliar.”

“No worries. I gotcha. Just make a fist,” Damian did as instructed, “and now we,” Bart tapped their knuckles together. “And that, my friend, is your first fist bump.”

Damian looked to Tim for guidance. “It’s used to express celebration.”

“It’s superfluous,” Damian sniffed. “I wish to continue my exploration of these facilities. They are inadequately prepared for attack.”

“Yeah, I got this,” Dick gently pushed at Damian’s shoulder, guiding him out of the room. Just as passed the door, Damian turned to the room and pointed his finger to his own eyes before pointing at the team. He then mimed slitting a throat. Dick grabbed him by his shirt and finished hauling him out of the room.

“What the hell is with evil Bats lately?” ask La’gaan.

Batgirl elbowed him in the side before taking her own step forward. “What La’gaan is trying to say we all got off on the wrong foot, and are willing to bury the hatchet if you are?” Behind her most of the Team nodded in solidarity.

When he’d beaten Superboy, he’d hoped that establishing himself as an alpha would be enough to get everyone off his back. This reconciliation was a surprise, but a welcome one. Tim was willing to take the olive branch. He nodded. “I’m sorry you got caught up in my fight with Batman.”

Wonder Girl’s eyes went wide. “And I thought me and my mom got into bad fights.”

“And we’re sorry we were so hostile with you during our last meeting.” Batgirl held out a hand. “Truce?”

“Truce,” Tim shook.

“So know that we’ve gotten that out of the way, do you want to get whooped at a game of air hockey,” Blue Beetle motioned to the table.

Tim shook his head. “Can’t. I really am updating the Justice League software security, and I’ve fallen a few days behind.”

“Raincheck?” He asked hopefully.

Tim grinned. “Raincheck.”

X-x-x-x-x

Tim was making fairly good progress when Damian popped his head into the room. Tim paused and swiveled the chair to look at him. He was moving with perfect posture, a clear sign that he was uncomfortable. “Hey,” Tim called, “how’s it going?” Don’t ask if everything was alright. That would just make Damian defensive.

“These facilities are unsuitable for their purpose. I have spent the morning compiling a list of necessary security measures before I will feel comfortable leaving you alone in such a place.”

Uh oh. “You do know I’m an adult, right? I can punch out my own bad guys and everything.”

Damian fixed Tim with a hawk’s stare. “Impulse has shown me the footage of your sparring match against the Kryptonian and, while your performance was exemplary, your known history indicates that your ability to care for yourself is inconsistent."

“Speaking of which, it is time for lunch.”

“I can’t.” Damian opened his mouth to protest but Tim quickly cut him off. “I’m in the middle of a tricky bit, and if I leave now I’ll have to start from scratch, which will waste hours. I’ll come as soon as I am finished.”

“Unnecessary.” Damian produced a thermos from seemingly nowhere. “Pennyworth prepared soup. You shall be able to consume it without it interfering with your work. I shall stay to remind you of its presence if you forget.”

Tim stared at the small child who was more invested in his survival than he was and wondered how it had come to this point. Tim at first had thought that maybe Damian was bonding with him as perceived outsiders, but this was going way above and beyond that. This was a Damian who might actually care for Tim, and Tim did not know how to handle that.

So he did the sane thing and ate his soup. True to his word, Damian nagged him whenever the boy thought he’d gone too long without taking a sip. Even after he’d finished the thermos, which had pulled a childlike smile out of Damian, the boy stayed around. They sat in silence for awhile, before Damian began asking him questions about the coding. He was surprisingly knowledgeable, asking questions about the more advanced work Tim was doing, and stiffly informed Tim that he learned to hack when he was six.

Information traded for information, Tim answered all of Damian’s questions in full. They stayed that way until Dick burst into the room, a bundle of nerves. He immediately relaxed when he spotted Damian. “He’s been here with you the entire time?” he asked.

“Of course,” Damian said offhandedly. “I prefer intelligent company.”

Relieved that Damian hadn’t stabbed anyone while unsupervised, Dick didn’t bother to chastise the boy. “Cool. That’s good. But I need to send you both home.” Tim raised an eyebrow. It was hidden by the domino, but Dick could read it in his body language. “We got some intel onto a case we’ve been working on, and if it’s going to be any good we need to strike fast.”

“Little D and I could just chill here.” Tim pointed out. “We’re pretty occupied at the moment and it’s not like we could get in the way while you are out in the field.”

Dick crossed his arms, thinking. He sighed. “Fine, but you,” he pointed at Damian, “stick by his side the entire time.”

“Of course,” Damian said, offended by the suggestion. “This place offers pitiful protection. I will allow no harm to come to Tim.”

It was Dick’s turn to raise an eyebrow, and Tim just shrugged. Dick threw his hands up in defeat. “Okay. Whatever. Just don’t get into any trouble.”

The moment he was out of the room, Tim pulled up the security feed to the war room, taking in the displays there. Given Bart’s annoyed expression and the diagrams on the holoprojector, it looked as though they were going after Kobra Venom yet again.

“Concerned?” Damian asked, the barest hint of worry in his voice.

Tim shook his head. “Curious,” he responded. It didn’t look like an overly elaborate setup, which meant fewer chances for a trap. Dick might actually have a hope in hell of getting a sample this time.

He waited for everyone to board the jet, one that had doors that seemed to form and vanish by itself, before turning off the feed. He tapped his lips, deep in thought. There was something he needed to do and, if it wasn’t for Damian, now would be the perfect time to do it.

Then again, Damian had been shockingly cooperative.

“Damian,” Tim asked, “Can you keep a secret?”

Damian scoffed. “I am the rightful heir to Batman and trained by the League of Assassins. Keeping a secret is child’s play.”

Right. That was all true. “Okay, I’m going to do something and I need you to not mention it to anyone, including Batman.”

Damian looked intrigued. “I accept your terms. What do you intend to do?”

“Oh, I just need a little information,” he said deceptively casual, his fingers flying. He didn’t even feel a little guilty that he was abusing Other Bruce’s trust. In no time at all he was in the file he needed.

Damian tilted his head. “The clone? Why do you need information on him? He poses little threat to someone with your skills.”

“It’s not about that. See here?” Tim pointed to one of the medical files. “His nucleotides are irregular, even for a human-kryptonian hybrid. His telomeres are also inconsistent.” He pulled out data disk, copying the information.

“I do not understand your interest,” Damian admitted. He was clearly puzzled.

Tim clucked his tongue, running through possible explanations. He settled on the truth. “Conner doesn’t age externally, which makes it impossible for him to have a secret identity.”

Damian grasped his own chin. “You seek to remedy that.”

“I do.”

“Why?”

Tim sighed. “I knew a Superboy in my universe. We were friends.”

“I don’t understand.” Tim didn’t try to explain any farther. Nothing he said would bring Damian closed to Tim’s motives, and his emotional logic would only frustrate the boy. Beside him, Damian shifted nervously. “Do I have a counterpart in your universe?”

“Yes, you do.”

“Were we friends?” Oh shit. Abort. Abort! Everyone abandon ship!

Tim was saved from answering as an alarm squealed through the base. The power flickered out, the soft glow of the back up generator kicking in after a few short seconds.

Damian scoffed. “I told Dick that security here was abysmal. But do not fret. I will protect you.”

“You,” Tim said seriously, “will follow my lead.” Damian scoffed. “I’m serious. We need information and a plan. Just running in and punching everyone we see will get both of us killed. That’s how I beat Superboy. Remember? Tactics. You said they were explampary.”

Damian growled in displeasure. “Fine,” he bit out. “What do you suggest?”

“The Zetas. When I attacked Mount Justice I was prepared for a blackout and rerouted power so one tube would remain functionally.”

“We’re running away?” shouted Damian.

“Shh! And no. We are strategically retreating. We are in an indefensible position without weapons against an unknown assailant. Retreat is logical.”

“Fine,” Damian whispered, his voice flooded with displeasure.

They made their way through the shadows, Tim pulling out a small remote. Damian cocked his head curiously. “Insurance,” Tim mouthed, not wanting to be heard by the enemy.

“They’re this way!” came a shout from far down the hall, too far for the enemy to have spotted them. They must be equipped with some sort of infrared. Tim took off, travelling as fast as he could, confident that despite his short legs Damian could keep up. As they tore through the training room, Tim clicked a button on the remote. They slid into another hallway.

It was too soon that they heard the sound of screaming.

“What was that?” Damian called over the screams.

Tim gave a grim smile. “I call it being prepared.” He hadn’t been certain which path the Team was going to take to access him when he’d first taken over the mountain. He’d used the time it took for their arrival to prepare for numerous options. It pleased him that his effort was being put to good use.

They passed through the kitchen and Tim paused, allowing Damian to pull ahead of him. He grabbed an innocuous dent in the wall and pulled out a long piece of wire, stretching across the door at chest level. He hooked it to a hidden battery before bolting again. The screams came sooner. The enemy was gaining.

They burst into the Zeta room and Tim clicked the remote. They were almost to the tubes when an energy beam fired just close enough to demand attention. Tim spun and threw his arm out in front of Damian, backing them closer to the tubes as he studied the enemy.

Black, shiny armor with subtle red highlights. It was full body, including square helmets with wide face plates that would not interfere with the luxuries in life, such as aiming. All except the person who’d fired the beam. His helmet was ridiculous, like when a cube of cardboard gets squished, and it had two small glowing eyeholes. Tim could tell he was going for intimidating, but all it gave him was a weird fetish look.

It was a bit of a relief when he took it off.

“You will find the Zetas of no use to you. Though you attempts have been impressive, you are currently outnumbered and without allies or weapons, ” the voice was accented and calm. It was of no surprise to Tim that Kaldur’ahm, former leader of the Team and current traitor, sounded calm under pressure. “Give me the child and no harm shall come to you.”

Tim snorted. “DId you have to practice monologuing or is that something that just comes to you when you flip to the dark side.”

Kaldur ignored the barb, steady as a rock. “If you refuse to hand over the boy, I cannot guarantee your safety.”

“If you come near me I cannot guarantee yours,” Damian snarled, a knife in hand.

Kaldur nodded. “I firmly believe that a child of the house of Al Ghul cannot be captured without casualty. However, those are sacrifices I am willing to make.”

Tim forced them back another step. “What does Black Manta want with an Al Ghul?”

“Those who walk in the Light walk together.”

“That sounds like a creepy cult thing,” Tim pointed out, “and my mother always told me not to drink the Kool-Aid, so I’m gonna pass on this. Now!” he called, spinning towards the Zeta and pushing Damian into the tube.

The boy disappeared in a flash of light.

Kaldur tilted his head. “Impressive, but we will simply follow.”

Tim laughed and grasped at the small cylinder he’d been keeping on his person, just in case. “No, you won’t. There was only enough juice for one person and turning the power back on will cause the coordinates to reset.” He flicked a button on it and it unfolded into his bo staff. “Damian is safe.”

“For now,” Kaldur nodded. “But you are not.”

Tim fell into a fighting stance. “Bring it, fish boy.”

Tim launched himself at the nearest minion, slamming the staff onto the man’s wrist. There was a clear and audible crack as the bone gave way. With a spin Tim jabbed the end of the staff into the helmet, cracking the face plate. He rolled into a crowd of them, the one who had been firing up a shot clipping an ally instead of Tim. Taking advantage of the confusion, Tim spun, catching knees with his unforgiving heel, the sound of moans filling the room like a symphony.

He grabbed the shoulder of a man who was half down and used it to propel himself up. He caught an air vent and swung his leg up, using it to shift his body so he was on top of the tubing.

“You are very good,” called Kaldur in his strangely calm voice. “I suppose you have been trained by Batman himself?”

Tim snorted. “You could say that!” he called back, aware that no one else would get the joke.

Kaldur reached for his hips, grabbing two empty hilts. “That changes the situation.” Water from a flask on the man’s back lit up as it was called into the hilts. Definitely magic, which was probably not good. Tim braced himself for an angled attack.

It did not come. Kaldur stretched the weapons in a straight line, piercing the bottom of the air vent. Tim only had time to widen his eyes as electricity began to crackle up the weapons. Then he knew no more.

Chapter Text

Bruce and Jay had what the kids would call a ‘solid’ day of bonding. The book store had resulted in Jay picking up a stack that he needed Bruce to help him carry. They’d stopped for chilidogs from a corner stand and had swung into a cooking supply store, where Jay had, after declaring them fucking adorable, purchased oven mitts shaped like cows for Alfred.

They’d fallen mostly into easy conversation, far easier than Bruce had with Damian, and chit chatted about how the Gotham Knights were doing and who’d they trade to make the team ideal. The only mar was how often Jay made a joke about his death. Bruce intended to have Canary speak to both him and Tim about their respective issues and after today Bruce was sliding that up to a closer date.

When Dick called in to inform him that the Team had a mission and that Damian and Tim had elected to remain in the Mountain, he’d thought nothing of it. Damian had been neurotic about making sure Tim ate and Tim seemed to temper the boy’s more violent tendencies. Bruce was finally starting to feel optimistic about the Tim actually putting on a little weight and Damian learning that knives were not the first and final solution.

Since there was no reason to wait up, Bruce and Jay had taken their food to the media room where Jay had put on Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. “Story of my life,” Jay grinned with a hard edge, making Bruce flinch. He definitely needed to get in touch with Canary.

He settled down into his chair when his phone started to ring. “Dude,” Jay pointed his fork, “no business calls during the movies.”

Bruce frowned at his phone, noting the lack of caller ID. That was always a bad sign in his line of work. He answered the call and Jay huffed at him.

“Hello?”

“You have been called collect. Would you like to accept charges from ‘Curse you, you infernal machine!’. Press one to accept charges-”

Bruce slammed his hand down on the button. “Damian, what’s going on?” Beside Bruce, Jay leaned in, a frown creasing his face.

“We were attacked! Timothy pushed me through but he did not follow and I could not return and I do not know-”

“Damian, breathe.” Bruce took his own advice, panic beginning to curl in his chest. He pushed it down, forcing himself to be calm.

“There is no time!” Damian hissed through the phone. “Timothy is under attack by a large number of armed assailants by himself.”

Bruce could feel his guts turn to ice. This could not be happening to him again. “Where?” Behind his eyes, and explosion went off, punctuated by the sound of manic laughter. Bruce dashed towards the Batcave, Jay hot on his heels.

“Mount Justice. The enemy cut the power. Timothy had anticipated such an event and promised that the Zeta would still work. I believe that he equivocated, and that there was only enough power for one.”

Bruce slammed into the Batcomputer chair, phone between his ear and shoulder as his fingers flew across the keyboard. “What’s your location?”

“The payphone the Zeta tube is located in is still functional,” Damian sneered at the oversight.

“Don’t move from there.” Damian tried to protest. “I’m serious. The more time we devote to finding your location, the less resources we have to help Tim. Jay is going to come pick you up. Just wait.”

“Fine.”

“I’m passing the phone off to Jay. If anything changes, if anyone approaches, you let him know immediately. Do you understand?”

“Yes Father.” Bruce actually believed that statement.

He handed the phone to Jay. “Damian’s near the Zeta tube, Mount Justice has been infiltrated and Tim’s there alone. Zetas are down. I’m calling in the League.”

“Fuck,” Jason took off with the phone, running to Batmobile.

A chat window popped up on his screen. “Watchtower.” Superman answered the comm and thank god for small mercies. Clark already knew who he was. “Uh, Batman? Where’s your mask?”

“Mount Justice as been attacked. Red Robin is reported to be alone against multiple assailants. Zetas are down. Requesting League response now!”

Superman slammed a code sequence. The last time the Mountain had been compromised, the entire team had nearly died. They’d made contingency plans since then, but apparently they need to be reworked because Tim was alone and unarmed. He didn’t even have his suit.

That was Bruce’s fault.

Tim had almost died a few days ago because Bruce hadn’t been prepared, hadn’t checked Tim himself. When he’d taken the boy he’d failed to grab his prescriptions. He’d tried to get Tim to socialize, and now Tim’s life was at risk yet again. He was trying to help the boy, but it seemed like all he did was put Tim in more danger.

No. That was an oversimplification of the situation and that type of thinking would yield no results.

Yes, these incidents had all happened on his watch, but had they happened in the other universe, Tim would be dead. He would not have been in the Manor when the infection took hold, and that Batman didn't care enough, wasn't trusted enough by Tim, to even have an uptodate medical history. That man wouldn't yet know that Tim was in danger at the mountain, just like he hadn’t known about the RIddler.

Despite everything happening, Bruce had done the right thing by bringing Tim here.

Still, he was anxious.

“The Flash is enroute. ETA, five minutes.”

Was that fast enough? How many times had Damian tried the Zeta tube? How long had it taken him to get the phone working? How long had it taken Bruce to actually make it to the Batcave?

How long could Tim hold out?

Bruce forced down the anxiety, sliding into his suit. The Batsuit held magic, forcing the fear down and allowing Bruce to be what he needed in the moment. He activated his League comm and jumped into the Batplane, calculating how long it would take him before he made it to Happy Harbour. Every second ticked by like an eternity.

“Flash has arrived.”

Bruce steeled himself. “Red Robin’s status?”

“Missing, likely captured. Flash is reporting signs of a struggle, but only trace amounts of blood. Nothing to indicate serious injury.”

“Immediate suspects?”

“There is some shattered glass and a bo staff, but other than that not much to go off of.”

Tim was painfully smart. He didn’t let himself be caught unawares. “The bo staff is Red Robin’s.” It was up to Bruce to find him. “Get me a sample of the glass. We need to know who took him.” He needed to know who he had to punch to get the boy back.

x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x
Tim woke up to silk sheets, cool air and a sense of deja vu. Opening his eyes he found that he was in a familiar cavern, but not the Batcave. Or the Other Batcave. And not the Mountain. And wow did Tim hang out underground a lot.

He shook his head. That thought came from drugs. They must have moved him pretty far to warrant dosing him to keep him under. That also explained the bruised feeling of his chest. Direct administration to his heart. The rest of the aches were probably bruises from falling off the air duct.

Then it hit Tim like Jason’s fist. Why this place was familiar. Dammit all to hell, he was back in Istanbul in Ra’s Al Ghul’s stupid Cradle. Fuck that man so hard. No. Wait. Retract that. Ra’s was creepy and would probably be into that.

Tim resisted the urge to slam his head into the bench behind it. He’d need all his brain cells working to deal with this one. Biting the proverbial bullet, Tim sat up to see how much company he had.

And it was Pru, Z, and Owens. The more things changed the more they stayed the same took on a whole new meaning. “Hey kid,” said Z. He’d always been the friendliest of the bunch. “Boss man wants to meet you.”

Pru snorted. “I don’t know why he put us on fucking babysitting duty. Kid’s so thin Owens could toss him like a goddamn discus, and Owens’ a bitch.”

Owens laughed. “And that charm right there is why everyone keeps breaking your nose.” Pru flipped him the finger. Deja vu indeed.

Tim stood slowly, testing his body to make sure he wasn’t still suffering the effects of the drugs. When the world stayed still, he nodded to Z, content to let the man bring him to his fate.

The walk to Ra’s receiving room felt long, but really it was just Z leading him in circles. That suited Tim, as it gave him time to check each turn against his memory. So far this place seemed exactly the same. It looked like Ra’s had a pretty steady preference for architecture between worlds. That would work in Tim’s favor.

Once they deemed Tim suitably intimidated, they finally led him into a grand hall, with gold candelabras every three feet. A plush carpet was roll from the door to the throne, as though Ra’s was a movie star. The man himself was sitting in a gold throne, the cushions matching the carpet, in his signature green robes. He had two attendants kneeling at his side, one offering up a bowl of grapes from which the man picked lazily. He was definitely doing a good job at the whole classic super villain vibe but Tim had seen this all before. The intimidation factor had worn off rather quickly.

“Hello, boy,” Ra’s greeted nonchalantly. “I am curious, has Bruce told you who I am, or does he seek to protect you through ignorance?”

“I’m aware of who you are, Ra’s,” Tim answered, prepared to play Ra’s little games. “But I don’t suppose you can say the same of me.” Ra’s hated being ignorant. Advantage Tim.

“Indeed,” Ra’s gave a bland smile. “It would be hospitable of you to introduce yourself. I would prefer to have something to write on your tombstone.” He kept his voice in the ‘I would casually murder you over a cheesestick’ tone. A reminder of who had the power here and who was an inch away from death.

Tim and Death were well acquainted at this point.

“I suppose if you had any intention of killing me, I’d be more inclined to provide it.” Tim tilted his head as though he was considering Ra’s.

“Oh?” The man’s voice was mild and there was genuine curiosity buried under it. He was at least looking at the hook Tim was holding.

“You plan to ransom me back to Bruce in exchange for the return of your grandson.” Tim brushed off the front of his outfit, trying to smooth out the wrinkles. They’d left him in the t-shirt and jeans he’d been wearing in the Mountain, but had taken the mask. “I imagine that you have already left him several clues as to my whereabouts, misdirection of course, and when he arrives at the wrong location you will make your demands known and posture about killing me.” His bo staff was gone, but whoever had searched him had done a poor job, likely thinking him an easy mark. He’d been captured embarrassingly easy.

“I will likely take a stab wound or two to demonstrate your commitment to the task, as though Bruce doesn’t already know that you give no qualms about killing. Bruce will try to outwit you by planting a trap. You will try to outwit him by springing the trap and capturing Damian anyway.” Tim kept his tone bored, indicated how passé he found this whole mess to be.

“Normally, that would be the time when you would deal with me, to punish Bruce for his arrogance, except now you are curious.” And now to add the bait. “There is no record of me. No birth certificate, no photos, no rumors about Bruce having taking in another child. But I am obviously trained by Batman, so how did I come to exist?

“A clone, possibly, but you have your finger in that. You would know if someone was cloning the Batman. And that would not explain the training. I do not move like a replica of the man, but as someone who has developed their own style after exposure to his.

“How long has it been since you’ve had such a puzzle presented to you?” He made his question sincere, as though he really expect Ra’s to put a date on it.

Ra’s stared at Tim before he threw his head back and laughed. It was a chilling sound. He clapped his hands together slowly. “Well done, boy. Or should I call you Detective, for figuring a my plan? You are indeed a curiosity although I do not know if you are worth keeping alive.” Tim didn’t shudder. Rule number one with Ra’s was to show no emotion. “You are free to roam the Cradle as you see fit. Of course, escape attempts will be punished. I encourage you to enjoy all the luxuries we can provide.”

At that, the attendant not holding Ra’s grapes stood and sashayed her way over to Tim, dragging her hand across his chest as though savoring the muscles beneath his shirt. Tim hated when Ra’s minions did that. He gently pulled her hand away. “Thank you, Ra’s. I will ask for anything I need provided.”

“Indeed. And someday you will tell me your name,” the man’s lips were twisted into an amused smile, violence built in underneath. He snapped his fingers and Z stepped up beside Tim, escorting him out of the chamber.

“Holy fuck you have balls of solid steel,” Pru exclaimed the moment they were out of hearing range. “I bet if I kicked you there I’d break my fucking knee.”

“Did you just talk the Demon Head into not killing you? Is that what just happened?” asked Owens.

“Personally I think he’s still going to slit your throat.”

Tim scoffed. “Thanks, Z. I appreciate the vote of confidence.”

A hand grabbed Tim’s shoulder and slammed him up against the wall, elbow across his windpipe. “No one’s said my name, so how the fuck do you know that?”

Oops. Well, if you can’t take it back, lean into it. “I know a lot of things, Z,” Tim choked out, not getting enough air to talk properly. “I know yours, Owens’ and Pru’s names.” Tim’s voice was a thin croak. It probably added to the dramatic affect. “I know that Dusan broke eleven of Pru’s bones because she told him to get a tan and I know that deep down inside, just once you’d like to save a life.

“As I told Ra’s, I’m a puzzle.”

“Christ,” Z let him drop, allowing Tim to suck in big gasps of air. “You’re a fucking little creep is what you are.”

The rest of the way to the room was made in silence.

X--x-x-x-x-xx-x-x-

Tim took Ra’s up on his offer to explore, weaving his way through the corridors. Word of either of his conversation with Ra’s, or perhaps his one with Z, must have spread through the Cradle because the assassins were giving him a wide berth and suspicious looks. A few of them literally scurried out of his way, watching him as though he was going to stab them in the back. A legitimate concern for an assassin to have, Tim supposed.

On one hand, being underestimated was a tactical advantage that Tim certainly no longer had. On the other, it was heady to have the League of Assassins wary of Tim. Not Robin. Not Red Robin. Just plain old Tim. To thank them he’d introduced them to the signature trick of Batman’s suddenly being there, which was compounded by the fact that he couldn’t sleep so he was up at all hours. Sure, he’d had to dodge the odd knife but was definitely worth it. The assassins were on edge, knowing that he could literally pop into the room at anytime. He was fairly certain, by the sudden silences when he walked into a room, that he’d been given a nickname. It was a shame that no one would share.

His spooky reputation also gave him better access to the base. The computer system was right where Tim remembered it, and hiding on some crates put him in the perfect position to watch someone punch in their codes. Ra’s didn’t seem so paranoid that they changed daily.

Then he summoned Tim again. This time he was escorted by two assassins who kept their hands on their weapons the entire time. They didn’t bother giving Tim the runaround to get to the room.

Ra’s was once again sitting in his throne, though this time he lacked his attendants. He motioned at the guards who stepped out of the room to leave them alone. It was just Tim and the Demon’s Head.

Lovely.

“Detective.” The man nodded his head. There was a hint of sarcasm in his voice.

“Ra’s” Tim returned the gesture in kind.

Ra’s gave Tim a disapproving look, like a grandfather scolding a favored child. “When I allowed you to roam free, I did not expect you to take it upon yourself to terrorize my people.”

Well.

Fuck.

Think fast, Tim. “It must be hard to be served by people who could be cowed by just one boy.”

Ra’s quirked his lips. “I hardly think you qualify as just a boy. Did you know my people have taken to calling you the One Who Walks With Shadows.” That was a mouthful. “They only whisper it, for fear that you will walk out of the wall and drink in their very souls.” Tim kept his mouth shut, not knowing where Ra’s was going with this. Was the man pissed? That would be bad.

“I will allow it to continue for now, as it amuses me. But when it no longer does you will desist.” Tim could work with that. He did not intend to stay for long.

Ra’s the steepled his finger and it took years of training not to point out how cliché that was. “I am now off to prepare for Bruce’s trap, as you so eloquently put it. I will return with my grandson, and if you want to keep your head you will treat him with the respect befitting his station.”

“Of course,” Tim bowed his head again. There was no way that Bruce was going to risk Damian. Tim was going to have to find his own way out.

He struck that night. Or what he assumed was night. He’d never had much of a circadian rhythm and he was in a cave with no clocks. Honestly he wasn’t sure how many days it had even been.

Fine. He struck when security was the lightest, punching in the code and slipping silently into the room. He rolled the gas pellets across the floor. The moment they exploded he jumped into the fray, using the dirtiest moves he had in his repertoire to stun his opponent. Thankfully, it wasn’t the White Ghost so Tim did not get his ass thoroughly kicked, but the assassin he fought was still highly trained and Tim still lacked a weapon. He made up for that with a groin shot.

Then Tim plunked himself in front of the computer, his brain pulling up everything he needed to know just like it was yesterday. But it was so much easier. There was no Council of Spiders to beat, no Tam here to protect. No moral gray area to navigate. Just Tim operating on the basic principles. Beat the bad guy. Don’t die.

He pulled out the disc, the same one he’d loaded Superboy’s DNA evidence onto. The same one he’d used to slice through Watchtower. Ra’s system was better, harder to get into than Watchtower’s, but still easier than last time. He programed the self sufficient generators to once again overload and explode. Since no one was currently trying to murder him, he set a timer and triggered the self-destruct alarm, as his plan was not to murder people en masse.

He made his way up the tunnels, taking a walking pace. He should probably run but honestly, if the explosion didn’t get him an angry ninja would. He was making okay progress when he felt someone grab his elbow. Instinct caused him to throw a punch.

It was caught, a bigger fist wrapping itself over Tim’s knuckles. “Easy kid,” said Z. “Ra’s will have my head if anything happens to you.” He pulled Tim off of the beaten path by his elbow. “There’s an emergency access hatch this way. It will get us out in half the time.”

Ugh, fine. He followed Z without prompting and sure enough there was a ladder, carefully tucked in a crevasse so it was not immediately apparent to people just staring down the hall. Pru were waiting at the base while Owens was at the top, unscrewing the cap.

“Hurry the fuck up. I don’t want to be in here when this place blows,” Pru grouced, not actually sounding concerned despite the situation.

“I’ve got the kid!” called Z. “Let’s book it.”

After Owens popped the hatch, they made Tim climb up next, seemingly surprised that they didn’t have to cajole him into climbing faster. And huh. Tim was right. It was night.

Once out, the four of them bolted across the empty field, passed on all sides by those who stopped to grab vehicles, no one slowing down to offer a ride. It proved the adage of no honor among theives.

Still, Tim was comfortable with their distance and the size of the explosion. Which should go off right... about… now.

The force of the explosion shook the earth and Tim fell to his knees as the ground beneath him rumbled in anger. A blast of air knocked him onto his side, so he used his arms to cover his head from any falling debris. A few pieces of heated metal hit Tim, burning through his pants, but he was mostly sprayed with dirt. When it finally seemed to stop, Tim slowly pushed himself up, spitting out the dirt that was coating his mouth. Owens, Z, and Pru all did the same thing.

“Everyone alive?” Z called.

“I’m fine,” answered Owens.

“Fuck,” hissed Pru. “I’ve got dirt in places it ain’t ever supposed to be.”

Tim didn’t offer a response. Instead he stood and tried to shake his hair out. It was a limited success. “Well, this has been fun,” he announced, “But I’ve got places to be so I’m just going to take off.”

Z gave him an incredulous look. “And go where? We are literally in the middle of nowhere.” He motioned around with his hand, pointing out all the rubble that Tim had made. It was a valid argument, but Tim really needed to book it before someone connect the dots between him and the explosion. He looked around, hoping to find something he could use, when he spotted a bright figure illuminated by moonlight standing in the remains of the explosion. Tim would recognize that half cape anywhere

Tim grinned and waved Z off. “I think my ride’s here.” Tim took a step towards the figure when Z caught his arm.

"The Demon's Head still demands your presence."

Tim scoffed. "Ra's can kiss my ass." He closed his eyes and chucked flash pellets at the ground. Even with them closed, the burst of light but we at his corneas. Z swore, giving Tim a target, and he swung hard with an elbow, slamming it into Z's shoulder. He brought his knee up, slamming it into the man's nose.

Pru and Owens readied themselves.

An iron grip wrapped itself around Tim's chest and he brought his heel back, trying to slam it into a knee. It was not his greatest success.

"This is mine," said Captain Marvel with no childish enthusiasm. Tim relaxed into the grip. "I am taking him. If you want to fight me about it, well, I'm not gonna hold back." And the man sounded grim. No one was going to believe Tim when he told them how threatening Captain Marvel could be.

Owens grabbed Z's arm, pulling the man up and back. They and Pru retreated into the night.

Then Tim was moving fast. It was like being on a really intense elevator ride but sideways, with his organs not entirely convinced a change in direction was a good idea.

"Batman!" called Marvel, dark tone having morphed back to chipper. "Batman, I found him!"

And sure enough, there was the Dark Knight himself, almost invisible in the starlight. Tim expected to be set down so he could report to the man.

Instead, Marvel passed him directly into Batman's arms like a teddy shared between children. Tim's feet didn't even skim the ground. Batman's arms wrapped around Tim's back holding the boy tightly to his chest.

He only eased Tim down so he could reach for his ear, a communication coming through. Even then he kept a firm grip on Tim's shoulder.

"Yes, there was an explosion here as well." So Other Bruce had managed to hit multiple bases and judging by Marvel's presence, he used the Justice League to do so. Why? That was weird. Ra's was usually just a bat problem. "Red Robin has been located, damages yet to be assessed." Other Bruce nodded along. "Thank you, Superman." Other Bruce brought his hand down, placing it on Tim's other shoulder.

"Are you hurt?"

"I'm fine."

"No. No 'I'm fine.' You are giving me a proper damage report. List every injury you have sustained since you were attacked in Mount Justice."

"Um, okay?" He obviously wasn't bleeding, so what was the big deal? Tim frowned, thinking back. There wasn't really anything worth editing out. "I was electrocuted and I fell from somewhere kind of high."

"How high?"

"Ten, maybe fifteen feet? Couldn't stick the landing because of the whole being unconscious thing." He waited a beat and when Batman asked no more questions he continued. "I was drugged, administered directly into my heart, so I have a healing bruise there. No idea what it was but I haven't had any reactions to it.

"I have a small cut on my arm from a knife," he hadn't always been able to dodge fast enough, "and very very minor burns from explosion debris. I also have a hangnail." He held his hand up as though Batman would be able to see issue in the dark.

"Your antibiotics are in the Batplane. You will be taking them as soon as you board."

Tim nodded. That was fair, as his latest bout with infection hadn't been that long ago. "Damian?" he asked. He was fairly certain the boy was unhurt, but at this point Tim was more concerned with his temper.

"He's intending to put you on a leash." Definitely could be worse. That was a pretty mild threat as fast as Damian went. "What can you tell me about the explosion?"

Tim kicked at the dirt, his toe sending a fragment of rock skittering. "That was me?" He could feel the heavy stares off both men. "Ra's was being a dick and I did the same thing in my universe but it was easy easier this time because Tam wasn't here and I wasn't also fighting the Council of Spiders."

"His universe?" Captain Marvel asked incredulously.

Other Bruce ignored him. "Ra's is here?" His grip on Tim's shoulders tightened almost to the point of pain.

Tim shook his head. "He left to put the final touches on his evil plan. That dude seriously needs to chill. But how did you find me?" If Ra's was one thing, it was discrete.

"Nightwing had intel as to who you were delivered to. Damian was able to provide intelligence of possible locations. The League struck them all."

That was overkill. Why would the League be cool being used that way? They had better things to do then watch after Tim. "It was pretty lucky that you picked this one too check out."

"It was logical to assume that you'd be here."

Tim cocked his head. "Oh?"

"Ra's keeps your spleen in a jar in Turkey." Tim felt his chest still. "Tim?" Batman asked.

"M fine," he managed to stutter out, feeling as though his world was shifting and he had no idea where everything would settle. That had been a personal detail, a throwaway comment made days ago that had nothing to do with the Mission. Other Bruce had listened to it, had cared about it. Had remembered it.

His Bruce didn't even remember his birthday.

Arms wrapped around Tim, a hand burying itself in his hair near the base of the skull. It exerted a gentle pressure as Bruce held him close. He didn't whisper false promises; no it was going to be okay. He just held Tim tightly, as though he could shield Tim from all the darkness of the world. He made no mention of Tim's tears.

No one had ever done that before and Tim didn't have the strength to push Bruce away. He could get drunk on this feeling, savor it and sip it with more care than his morning coffee.

"Other universe?" Captain Marvel brought up again, ruining the moment.

Bruce adjusted his grip, sliding Tim into a bridal hold. "Confidential," he clipped out tersely.

"Okay," Tim could hear the doubt in Captain Marvel's voice. Batman didn't seem to care as he carried Tim to the Batplane, depositing him in the passenger seat.

He climbed into the driver's side and reached into a small compartment, producing a bottle of water and another of pills. Tim grabbed both without instruction, making a face at the pills' bitter aftertaste.

"By the way you're grounded," Batman said conversationally.

"Why? What did I do wrong?" Tim felt a spike of panic, quickly followed by a rush of anger. He'd handled the situation as best he could! What more was Bruce expecting?!

"Your handling of the situation was adequate. You are, however, still grounded."

Tim blinked, trying to grasp the situation. "From what?"

"Irrelevant."

Tim snorted in good humor. "Okay then. Let me know when it's over."

Bruce's lip twitched upwards.

Chapter Text

In the Batplane, Tim briefed Bruce on most of the things that had occurred, citing his suspicion that while Damian was a target, his actually presence on the base seemed unexpected, else he never would have gotten the boy within fifty feet of the Zeta.

Bruce agreed. “The Team’s mission was a distraction. While there was some activity, it was nowhere near what Nightwing had been led to believe. It was obviously a ploy to gain access to the mountain. Black Manta’s forces were planting audio and video feeds in strategic locations. They did not come with the intent to engage.”

“That’s so comforting,” Tim snarked. “But I don’t understand why Black Manta is working for Ra’s Al Ghul. They don’t exactly run with the same crowds.” Tim pointed out.

“We believe Black Manta is seeking to join the Light. Locating Damian was likely a test.”

“So I was kidnapped as part of an evil society’s hazing ritual?” Tim bounced against his seat. “That sucks.”

Bruce shifted the conversation. “Did they feed you?’’

What was with these people’s obsession with his eating habits? “They tried, but I felt like taking food from literal ninja assassins was a bad idea.”

Other Bruce grunted, though Tim couldn’t tell if it was in agreement or displeasure. “Did you sleep?”

Tim stared at Bruce. “Ninja. Assassins.” He said it slowly as though it would better help Bruce understand.

Bruce brushed off Tim’s attitude. “Your chair reclines. Feel free to try and sleep. Alfred will have a meal prepared for you by the time we reach the Manor.”

Tim lowered his chair, preparing himself to stare at the roof of the plane to avoid the nagging. There was no way he was going to be able to sleep after all that. He glanced up at the blinking lights, trying to recall what each one indicated.

“We’re here.” Tim blinked; that hadn’t taken very long. And why did his eyes feel gritty? Was that drool on the corner of his mouth? He wiped it away in embarrassment. Fortunately Bruce didn’t comment on his nap.

He was barely out of the plane before Dick was pulling him into a hug. “I’m so happy you are safe.” Judging by Dick’s grip, this was going to be a long hug. “I’m sorry I left you alone.”

Tim squirmed out of Dick’s grip. “What happened wasn’t your fault,” he assured him, “and if you blame yourself for everything you can’t control, you’ll break.” Dick looked uncertain. Which was so strange because Dick had been the one to teach Tim that lesson. Dick here was just so young. “We’re good,” Tim assured him.

“No! No one is good!” roared Damian, marching his way over and pushing Dick to the side. He was in his assassin duds and was making no effort to hide his knives, of which there were many. “You deceived me and then allowed yourself to be captured by my grandfather, an enemy so fierce that the heavens tremble in his wake! You are a fool and I shall not forgive you!” He threw a punch right for Tim’s kidney.

“Whoa!” exclaimed Dick.

“Damian!” Bruce barked.

Tim just knocked the blow away redirecting Damian’s energy while conserving his own, the same thing he did for the next three. Damian switched tactics, jumping high, trying to land a well placed elbow, but Tim dodged with ease. Damian had been trained by the League of Assassins. Tim had studied directly under Lady Shiva.

Damian was outclassed.

But instead of lashing out, Tim allowed the fight to continue, moving and sliding, brushing Damian’s few hits off with ease. Bruce and Dick stood off to the side and in a spare moment Tim shook his head, letting them know that he had this.

When Damian finally grew sloppy, exhaustion setting in, Tim made his move. He slammed a hand into a nerve cluster in Damian’s shoulder, numbing it, before drawing the boy into an embrace.

Damian fought like a street cat. “Let go of me, Timothy! I hate you! You lied to me! I will never forgive you!”

Tim held on tight, even when Damian bit him. “I’m sorry I scared you, Damian.”

“I was not scared,” Damian hissed. “I am angry. You lied to me!”

“It was tactically sound,” Tim tried to soothe. Dear god, he sounded like his mother. “I’m a more experienced fighter and since you were the target, making you unaccessible assured victory.”

Damian shook his head. “They could have killed you.”

“People die, Damian.”

“No,” the boy buried his face into Tim’s chest. “I have promised Father that I will tend to you.” And how had Bruce extracted that promise? “You will not interfere with that! I forbid you to die.”

“Damian,” Tim pulled the way and crouched down to Damian’s height so he could stare the boy in the eye. “I take care of you too, okay? Next time, we’ll fight together.”

“Fine.” The mood stepped back, seemingly mollified. “Tomorrow we begin training. I will be assessing your skill and preparing your training regiment.”

Don’t sound patronizing. Don’t sound patronizing. “Okay, Damian.” Ha! Ten points!

“Tt.” Damian headed towards the stairs where Jason was sitting on the steps. “No doubt you did not eat. I will have Pennyworth prepare you a meal.”

“You okay?” Dick asked Tim hesitantly.

Tim waved him off. “Yeah.” He held out his arm to showcase the bite. “He didn’t even draw blood.”

Jay strolled down the stairs,he'd observed the fight from the top step, slinging his arm around Tim’s shoulder. “So the kid’s fine, we’re about to get him fed and tucked in. I’m sure you,” he looked at Bruce, who had removed his cowl, “have already done the briefing. You’ve been up since the kid went on vacation. Gremlin and I have got this.”

“He’s got a knife wound,” Bruce pointed out.

“You made him take his drugs?” Bruce nodded. “Then we’re all good. Just looking at you two is making me tired. Shoo,” Jay made the hand motion.

Dick gave a sheepish smile and a small wave while Bruce gave a dark frown, but still obeyed, allowing Jay to usher them out of the Batcave. They did look tired, which made Tim realize that he didn’t actually know how long he’d been held for. If they were obeying Jay, they both must be dead on their feet.

The moment they were gone, Jay pinned Tim with a considering look. “You are one hell of a liar.”

“Excuse me?” Tim played innocent.

Jay grinned at him. “I think even Bruce bought your ‘next time we fight together!’ speech, but you would toss the kid out a window if it meant keeping him safe.” He led Tim to the medical area, examining the knife wound. “This ain’t too bad. How’d you get it?”

“Snuck up on a ninja.”

Jay shook his head. “You dork.” He administered a topical anesthetic. “But seriously, you good? I spent time with the League and I had Talia there to buffer me.”

Tim held back a shrug, not wanting to do that while Jay had a needle in his arm. “I’ve hung out with them before.”

Jay raised an eyebrow. “You are explaining that.” He tugged on the thread, making the stitch tight.

“Ra’s once teamed up with me to beat a team of assassins.”

Jay raised the other eyebrow. “You are also explaining that.”

Tim opened his mouth, pausing when he realized that he didn’t know where to start this story, that he’d never told it to anyone. Tam knew because Tam had been there, but no one else did. They knew he’d damaged Ra’s and that the man was out for revenge, but Tim had never offered details and no one had ever pressed.

“Tim?”

Tim shook his head. “Sorry, I just.” He sighed. Start at the beginning. "Bruce was missing and no one believed me when I said he was alive, so I was in Europe gathering evidence. Ra’s’ people were being hunted down by the Council of Spiders, assassins who hunted assassins because they liked the challenge. I was ambushed by one of them in the desert, which is how I lost my spleen. Ra’s patched me up. He’s always been a little weird about me. He involved Lucius Fox’s daughter to ensure my cooperation. I took down the Council of Spiders, blew up Ra’s’ base the same way I did today, proved Bruce was just missing, and I rescued the girl.” Tim was still pretty fucking satisfied about that.

“How old were you?” Jay asked casually.

“Sixteen.”

“How old are you now?”

Tim frowned. “Sixteen?”

Jay’s face was a thundercloud. “So B was missing. Where was Dick?”

Tim tilted his head, not sure where Jay was going with this. “Gotham.”

“And did Dick know that Ra’s had you?”

Tim still didn’t know what Jay was getting at. “No?”

“Did he ever know you were in danger?”

“He was busy with Damian.” Jay snipped the string on the last stitch. Tim could see the lines of tension in his face, but wasn’t quite sure what was causing them.

“I’m surprised Damian let you wander off.”

Tim puffed his cheeks and let out a breath. “To put it mildly, Damian did not like me.”

“And to put it bluntly?” Jay challenged.

Tim sighed. “He tried to kill me.”

“HE TRIED TO WHAT?” Oh fuck. And there was Damian, obviously having hid in a cranny so he could eavesdrop. Had Jay known he was there? “Why? I demand answers!”

Tim held up his hands, trying to once again to calm Damian. “It’s complicated-”

“I am no child!” Damian stomped towards Tim, his knuckles white around the thermos of soup. “You will explain why my counterpart sought your death.”

Tim looked to the sky, as though something would swoop down and save him. But Batman was in bed and not going to be any help. “Did Bruce tell you my last name?”

Damian nodded stiffly. “You’re Timothy Wayne.”

“And before that I was Tim Drake. Bruce adopted me and I took his last name. Your counterpart saw that as a challenge to his position in the family and wanted to get rid of me. Killing me was on the table.”

Damian scoffed. “Surely Grayson and Father intervened.”

Tim gave a bitter smile. “They really didn’t.”

The boy ran a hand through his hair in frustration. “I still do not understand. You are a valuable ally.” He looked at Tim, eyes shining in rage. “The Damian of your world is a fool.” He forcefully held out the thermos of soup to Tim with one hand. “I shall inform Father that you shall not be returning.”

“Damian,” grabbed the boy’s hand, “I have things that I have to do back home.” He had the List he needed to finish enacting, though that would need to be greatly reworked because Bruce had thrown his timeline out the window. He had his patrol route. There were several open case files, and he owed Cass a debt.

“Others shall have to learn to do them as you are staying here.” The boy strode off as though the matter was settled.

Tim looked at Jay for solidarity, but one look at his face told Tim that he would find none. “Gremlin’s right. Your universe is fucked and you’ve already got a room here.”

He walked out of the Batcave before Tim could think of a response.

X-x-x-x-x-x-x-x

Tim had a carefully constructed plan of how he was going to alternate between wheedling, cajoling, and pouting to get back to Mount Justice. He’d even made a powerpoint as to why he allowing him to return was not only reasonable but necessary.

Other Bruce flipped the page of his newspaper as though he didn't love in the digital age. The man liked to cut out articles, but screenshots were a thing. “I’m going to Mount Justice today. I want you to come with me.”

Tim nearly dropped his spoon into his soup. “Excuse me?” He asked in surprise.

“I understand that you might no longer feel safe there,” Bruce said softly, putting the newspaper down on the table, “but right now the League is there upgrading the security measures. It is one of the safest places on the planet,” he said in his ‘Pass this very reasonable motion’ voice.

“Tim?” Other Bruce prodded as the silence grew too long.

Oh! Right! Response was required. “That’d be cool with me. I actually wanted to hang out with the team?” Tim needed to talk to Bart. Badly. About things Bruce didn’t need to know about. "What about Damian?"

Other Bruce shifted in his seat. Damian had definitely spoken to him. "Damian will be spending the day with Jay."

Oh fuck. They were going to plot together, and Tim had no idea how effective they'd be. Jason and Damian had never gotten along, but they had definitely found solidarity in hating the replacement. "Good for them," Tim aimed to keep his slowly growing terror out of his voice.

Bruce laced his fingers and Tim knew that he wasn't going to like what he heard next. "You will also be talking to Dinah." Oh, that wasn't so bad. Black Canary was a actually pretty cool, though Tim didn't know why he needed to talk to her. Bruce picked up on Tim's confusion. "In a professional capacity."

"You're sending me to a therapist?!" Tim stood, slamming his hands on the table.

"You still aren't eating. You've gone through a major trauma-"

"I've told you I'm fine,". Tim huffed in annoyance.

"-and you are at the point where major traumas have been normalized. You are acting as though there has been nothing exceptional about the last week."

"So your sending me to a therapist, a fake therapist, because I'm not a wreck?"

"Dinah has all the necessary training which is utilized by both the Team and the League. Therapy is a normal, useful tool, especially to superheroes who face horrific scenes every day."

Tim scoffed. "Bullshit. You've never been."

"I have," Other Bruce admitted as though that wasn't a shameful secret. "And it helped, just as I'm sure it will help you."

Tim eased back into his chair. "I'm fine."

"You're killing yourself," Bruce snapped. He took a deep breath, and his next words came out calmer. "It's slow, but you are dying by your own hand, Tim. You need to sleep. You need to eat." Tim motioned to his bowl. "More than soup. You spent your time with the League of Assassins sneaking startling people who could have easily slaughtered you.

"You allowed an infection to grow to the point it nearly killed you. You never brought up that you should be on antibiotics."

"I didn't know my hand was infected," Tim muttered. It was a weak defense against the accusations Bruce was throwing his way.

"Because you didn't bother to monitor the wound," Bruce shot back. "But you were willing to fight with it." He stared at Tim fiercely, but there wasn't even a hint of Batman showing through. "You will be seeing Dinah regularly. You will obey her instructions on treatment. And I won't invade your privacy." Tim scoffed. "Dinah is very strict about confidentiality. She will tell me nothing unless she suspects that you are going to hurt yourself."

Tim listlessly stirred his soup. "You've really gone?"

"Yes. I don't think I would have made it if I hadn't."

"Fine," Tim ground out. They could make him go, but he doubted it would be hard to drive Dinah off.

They went to the mountain shortly after breakfast. While Tim still wasn't allowed his suit, Other Bruce had actually made him wear his harness and had done an inventory check, making sure that Tim had everything he could possibly need. He'd also returned Tim's bo with strict instructions to use it if it felt necessary.

Tim had almost drawn it immediately after stepping out of the Zeta.

"Holy shit, you're alive!"

"How bad are you hurt?"

"Did you really take on Ra's in combat?"

The bombardment of questions had them blurring together, getting more absurd the longer this went on. Batman, the traitor, had left Tim to fight for his own survival.

A tan blur pushed everyone back, allowing Tim to see this cacophony was caused by only part of the team. "Give the man of the hour some space. Pictures and autographs will be handed out after the show." Bart held his arms out, acting as a physical barrier between Tim and the team's curiosity.

Bart was definitely his favorite.

"Are you okay?" asked Miss Martian, acting as the spokesperson for the team.

"I'm fine. Seriously. Batman hasn't let me out of his sight," he joked. The humor was lost as Batman looked away from Wonder Woman to glance at Tim.

M'gann nodded seriously. "He is a bit of mother hen when it comes to his partners," she agreed, and Tim felt his perception of the man shift again. It was one thing for Other Bruce to care in private, but for someone else to know? It was unthinkable. His Bruce might actually break his vow on no killing if it meant ensuring that no one knew he occasionally felt an emotion.

"So since you aren't dead," said La'gaan, "want to go play basketball ball? Powers allowed."

That sounded like a genuinely good time, but Tim was here on business. He pulled a face. "Can't. I have to check in with Dinah."

M'gann gave a knowing nod. "Yeah, she's pretty great."

Tim schooled his face, hiding his surprise. It sounded like the team really had gone to see the woman. "Hey, Bart?" The speedster snapped to attention. "Can you show me where Black Canary's office is?"

"Yeah, no problem my man." Bart sped down a hallway. Tim waited a few seconds for him to come back. "Right. Not a speedster. This way," he waved Tim down a hall.

Once they were in a space not being improved by Leaguers, Tim spoke up. "I think I have a solution to our problem."

"This way," Bart turned down tunnel, leading Tim down to the hanger. The room appeared empty. "They haven't started working in here as yet. No cameras." Smart. Bart leaned against a jet. "Hit me with it."

"Okay," Tim started to pace. It helped him think. "First I need you to tell me a bit about the future. You mentioned being moded. What exactly does that mean?"

Bart looked grim. "People were dived into three classes. Moded was the lowest function. People whose collars we crashed said it was like living in a fog."

Makes sense. "Obedient slaves can't revolt."

"Exactly. The Elevated were the favorites. Fancy food, fancy toys, and the ability to think. You only got elevated if you impressed, and impressing the Light usually involved being one twisted bastard."

Bart took a shuddering breath, as though what he was about to tell Tim was hard. Tim braced himself for something horrific. "Moded and Elevated were determined at eighteen. People were scrapped and soon as it was discovered we didn't fit." Oh fuck he said we. "People who were mystical, meta genes too dangerous to bother with, people who could see the future, all that."

Tim's stilled. "And you were too dangerous."

Bart laughed humorlessly. "It turns out the speedforce is magical in nature. I know the Flash has some bullshit pseudo science on it, I read the papers, but at the end of the day being generating a dimension that allows you to run really fast isn't done by science alone.

"So I was put on the list. Same plan for me as everyone else. Dissected first, then killed. Double tap to the head. In case we survived that the bodies were incinerated.

"I was six. Managed to hide until then, but it only takes one slip up." Bart shrugged as though he'd been resigned to that fate. "I was being shipped when you, when future you, showed up. You swung in, killed the bad guys, saved the good, and then acted like it was no big deal.

"I've stuck with you ever since."

Tim's mouth was dry. "Did he ever make you-"

"Kill?" Bart shook his head. "Bit my head off whenever I suggested it. He said that he was going to give me a better future and I didn't need to carry that with me.

"He also said to tell you that he wasn't your destiny and you'd know what that meant."

Tim took a moment to steady himself. If Bart could handle talking about that, Tim could handle listening. Once he was certain he wasn't going to cry or vomit, he spoke up. "So it sounds like magic was at play in the collars, which I suspected. It would explain how they could sort out mystics.

“We don't have the knowledge to prevent the Light's plan nor the resources to gain that knowledge. If we draw attention to ourselves, the traitor will likely kill you," Tim summarized.

"You have a plan," Bart gave a dark smirk, the look of a person who knew what Tim with a plan was like.

Tim grinned back. "I have several." He started pacing again. "We're going to break up the band." Bart tilted his head, so Tim explained. "What makes the Light so dangerous is that they work together. If we can drive a wedge between them...

"They can't get up to their diabolical shenanigans. Ra's is already out of the picture. Right now there's blood in the water and he knows he's leaking. He'll go somewhere to lick his wounds," and then pop up again like that creepy uncle from family reunions.

"We can't just blow up everyone. That wouldn't stop Luthor," Bart pointed out.

Tim's smile took a cutting edge. "No, but we can cause them enough trouble that they won't have time to be in an evil cult."

"And the traitor?"

"I have full access to League files and security. The League is pretty distracted right now. They won't notice if I get up to all sorts of things We browse through the through the files, pull anything relevant.

"Then we play with them, bat them around like a cat playing with a mouse. Feed them false intel while milking them for the truth. When we have enough, bam! Set them up, knock them down. Solve the problem permanently."

"Bastard!" Came the cry. Superboy launched himself across the hanger and only Bart pulling Tim out of the way prevented him from being in punching distance. Somewhere you never wanted to be when fighting an angry kryptonian. "I can't believe I trusted you."

Bart ran circles around Conner, pausing to throw the occasional punch. It was good strategy, but Tim could see that Bart was predictable. So did Superboy, and the older teen's arm shot out, grabbing the speedster by neck. He squeezed tight enough to elicit a choking noise from Bart and could easily break the boy's neck, either on purpose or by accident.

Then Superboy hit the ground, twisting in agony. Tim held the shard of kryptonite aloft and knelt down by the gasping clone. He snapped his fingers to ensure that he had the boy's attention.

He reviewed his own words. "Okay," Tim said grudgingly, "I'll admit that sounded bad, but blindly attacking was a stupid move, so that's on you.

"So what I propose we do is you promise not to attack until you've heard the entire story, and I promise to put the kryptonite away. Okay?" Superboy gritted his teeth, his head falling back with agony. "I said do we have a deal?"

"Fine," Superboy hissed.

The rock disappeared as quickly as it had appeared, and Tim gave Superboy a few minutes to recover. When he was no longer gasping, Tim gave him a barebones explanation.

"Bart's from a dystopic future. He came back to stop the Light. There's a traitor in the League we need to find them."

"Why not just go to the League?" Superboy grunted.

"If the traitor finds us first we're dead."

Superboy pushed himself to his feet. "The League would protect you."

Tim gave Superboy an incredulous look. "This is my first day back here after being kidnapped."

Superboy deflated. "Point." He gave Tim and Bart an assessing look. He seemed to come to a decision. "I want in."

"You can't tell anyone" Bart stressed.

Superboy's face pursed in thought. "Fine," he grounded out reluctantly. "Just us." He spat the words as though they tasted foul. "So what's the plan?"

"General mayhem," Bart grinned.

Tim nodded. That was a good assessment. "We're going to give the Light enough trouble individually that they can't work together."

"Like what? It's not like we can hire an assassin to take any of them out," Superboy groused. He caught the manic glee in Tim's eye. "We are not hiring assassins."

"Assassins are cool!" exclaimed Bart.

Tim shook his head. "Superboy's right. We aren’t assassinating anyone, but they don't have to know that."

"Its Conner." Tim blinked at the non sequitur. "My name. Conner."

"Conner," Tim's smile his hiding the burning rage that this version never had what Kon had with Superman, that his Kryptonian name wasn't a source of pride.

"Assassins?" Bart prodded.

"Fake assassins. We hire someone to spend weeks obviously preparing for an assassination. Following the mark. Moving personal things in their base. Maybe a failed shot or two." Psychological warfare at its best.

"We can't do that for everyone," Superboy pointed out.

"Yeah,” Tim agreed, “they'll get suspicious.” He began to list out and cross off possible targets. “Vandal's invincible. He won't be shaken. Sports Master will kill whoever we send. Luthor would see through it or outbid us. Queen Bee is vulnerable. Wasn’t she deposed a few years ago? That puts her in an already tenuous position. She’s probably already on the lookout for assassins."

"Obvious problem," Superboy pointed out grumpily. "How do we pay for that? You’re keeping the League out, and my spending account won’t cover an assassin.

Tim's smile was ruthless. "I'm sure Luthor won't care about missing a few million dollars."

X-X-X-X-X

The floor between them stretched on for miles, the softness of Tim's chair feeling more like it was designed to trap than provide comfort. It was crimson, like blood, and why someone had thought that was a good idea was beyond Tim.

Across from him sat Dinah, calm and composed as though crafted from marble.

"You can talk about anything here. It is a safe space and nothing said here will be repeated."

Thank god she wasn't talking in the movie psychiatrist voice. Tim really would have stormed out of the room, Bruce be damned. But still, he had no intention of cooperating. He was fine. "No couch for me to lay on as I talk about how I want so have sex with my mother?" he asked as snidely as possible.

Dinah let out a small chuckle. "Television does give this a bad rap." She flicked to serious again. "You can talk about anything you want here and it won't be repeated. But right now I have a few questions for you."

The questions were simple on an intensity scale of one to five. Do you sigh a lot? Do you skip meals a lot? How well do you sleep? Tim's level of honesty varied.

Dinah didn't react to any of the answers, just writing them down, the scratching of her pen scraping across Tim's nerves. When they finished with the banal inquiries, Dinah bit the end of her pen.

"I'd like to start you on a low dose of antidepressants,” she suggested.

Tim protested. “I’m fine! I’m not lying in bed feeling sad all the time.”

“Depression is different in different people. And you aren’t fine, Tim, and that’s okay.”

“So what? You’re going to get me hooked to pills and hope that I stop being a problem?” Tim could feel his temper flaring under his skin. This had been a stupid idea.

“Depression is like any wound, Tim. You wouldn’t fight with a broken arm,” Bad example. Tim totally had. “We take time and take the pills for now. Hopefully we can stop them as soon as you are feeling better.”

Tim scoffed. “I suppose you have some arbitrary definition of better?”

“Eating solids and sleeping regularly aren’t exactly lofty goals,” she said wryly.

Tim sighed, calculating his odds of getting out of this. “You’re telling Batman about the meds, aren’t you?” She nodded. And Other Bruce would tell Damian, who was already up to something with Jay. If Tim didn’t take the pills on his own, he was liable to be brow beat into taking them. “Fine,” he pouted.

He’d take the stupid pills for now.

Chapter Text

Apparently Luthor did care about a few million dollars, given the number of cyber security experts he fired in the following week. Tim discreetly hacked his way into Wayne Enterprise and dropped their resumes into the potential employee pool. The fact that Luthor was trying to black ball them almost guaranteed Lucius would hire them out of sheer spite. How challenging Luthor's system had almost been to access only made Tim feel better about the decision. They’d be valuable to Wayne Enterprises.

As for the money, Tim had rerouted it into an offshore account, as one does, but he'd set a trail for Luthor to follow that bounced from server to server. It ended in Luthor's own office, which caused Tim no small amount of glee. If Luthor had hair he would be pulling it out right about now.

Hiring a faux assassin was proving to be a greater challenge. Tim had his heart set on Jade, but she’d been skillfully dodging his offers without even listening. Tim was fairly certain that she’d promised Roy Harper the Clone that she was done killing, which actually made her more perfect for this. If only she’d let Tim offer her millions of dollars.

He’d been brainstorming plans on how to take out the rest of the Light. Vandal Savage would be nigh near impossible, but if Tim could isolate the rest of his allies the man wouldn’t be able to carry out the plan himself.

There was a rapping on his door and Tim flicked the computer screen to anime. “Come in,” he called.

Bruce opened the door and leaned against the frame instead of walking in. “How are you feeling?”

“I took all my pills,” Tim said defensively. “And I drank my soup.”

Other Bruce gave a charming smile. “Allow me to try again. Are you up to going out today?”

Tim gave him a suspicious look. “To Mount Justice…?” Tim thought he’d covered with Bruce that the place didn’t freak him out.

Other Bruce gave a wry grin. “It has been brought to my attention that I’ve been allowing you to run yourself ragged as Red Robin, but haven’t given you a chance to be Tim Wayne. Jay wants us to do something as a family.” Dammit, Jay. Was this what he and Damian had been plotting?

“And what did Jay have in mind?” Tim smiled as he spoke, as though he didn’t want to strangle someone.

Bruce gave a suffering look. “The feature exhibit of the botanical gardens is Batman.”

What? “We’re going to a Batman themed flower garden.” WHAT? “Oh my god,” Tim breathed out reverently, “I wish I had a camera.”

In a disappointingly transparent move, Dick and Damian rode in one vehicle, sticking Jay, Bruce and Tim in together in a car. Jay had insisted that Tim take shotgun, citing that it would give Tim a chance to get a good look at the city. Jay kept up the conversation, baiting Bruce and Tim into talking with each other.

Tim frowned as Bruce parked in the shopping district, nowhere near the gardens. “Are we making a detour?”

Bruce smiled mischievous, waggling his eyebrows. Tim had never seen such a playful expression on the man’s face. His alternate’s face. Other Bruce’s face? Whatever. “It’s a surprise.”

Baffled, Tim followed the man out of the car. Even Jay was looking confused but still pleased. Tim walked down the sidewalk, the sights and sounds of the city welcoming him home. He hadn’t realized how much he missed this, how much he missed being in Gotham. The city was under his veins, pumping through his blood, and he wouldn’t have it any other way.

Bruce led them into the store and it was like walking into heaven. Glistening shelves were lined with cameras, everything from antiques that still used film to the modern digitals. Glass cases displayed lenses like twinkling jewels.

Bruce put a hand on Tim’s back, nudging him forward. “Pick one,” he encouraged with a pleased smile.

Tim’s hands shook. After becoming Robin, he’d always had access to the best camera for surveillance, ensuring that he never missed anything in a case. Taking photos for the sheer pleasure of it had set aside along with the rest of childish things. Other Bruce would have disapproved of Tim getting back into the hobby; too many secrets that Tim might capture by mistake.

“Really?” Tim whispered, still not entirely convinced this was happening.

“Really. Any one. Two if you want. I think I can afford it.”

“DId you just wink?” Jay asked. “That’s so fucking weird, B. Who the hell winks anymore? Was that ever really a thing?”

Tim laughed and began pouring over the cases, careful not to touch so he didn’t smudge the glass. “Which of these are full frame?” he asked the woman behind the counter. She led him to a selection, though from Tim could tell the greatest variation between them was price. Undecided, he waved Jay over. “Hey Jay, which one should I get?”

“Why the fuck you asking me? I know dick all about cameras.” Still, he came over. The sale’s lady was good, not even flinching at how rough Jay was around the edges. Tim figured she made commission. “You gonna hate me if I pick the wrong one?” he asked a little uncertainly.

“Any of these are fine. I just can’t choose.”

Jay hummed. He pointed. “That one. It will fit better in your girly hands.”

Tim laughed and the sales lady carefully grabbed the camera, placing the rest back. “Is it charged?” Tim asked. It would suck to pick it up now and not be able to use it.

“It will be half charged,” the sales lady answered with a smile.

Tim grinned back, knowing he was about to make her day better. “I also need a macro lens, a portrait and a scenery. Not professional grade; I’m only a hobbyist. A carrying case and I assume the body has expandable memory?” She nodded. “I need an SD card with a computer adapter, one twenty-eight gigabytes or higher.”

As she fetched Tim’s order he felt a burst of anxiety. He turned to Bruce and rubbed his hands on his pants. He should have asked first. But instead of silently disapproving, Bruce walked over with a smile. “Found everything you needed?”

“Yeah,” Tim relaxed. “I’m picking up three lenses. I can put one back if its too much.”

“I’m sure it won’t bankrupt me,” Bruce joked, placing a hand on Tim’s back. “I’d guess macro and scenery, given that we’re headed to the gardens, but what’s the third?”

“Portrait,” Tim said nervously. “I want to get some photos of everyone for Alfred.”

There was a sparkle in Bruce’s eyes. “Yes, we will certainly do that… for Alfred.”

Testing it, Tim affixed one lens to the camera and looked through the frame. He turned and pointed it at Jay, capturing the other boy’s curiosity as stared at a camera so old it probably required flash powder. He looked down at the candid, and couldn’t help but smile, his eyes burning. It was reliving a moment he thought gone forever, capturing a photo of Tim’s favorite Robin while he was unaware.

“Dude,” Jay glanced over, sounding concerned. “You okay?”

Tim gave a sincere smile. “Yeah, I’m good.”

From the camera store they made their way straight to the gardens, where Dick and Damian were both waiting. “Why were you delayed?” Damian asked, dandruff up.

Jay cut in. “Bruce was buying Tim cameras. Tim nearly cried.”

“I did not,” Tim blustered. “And I only bought one camera.”

Damian relaxed immediately. “Acceptable. Timothy, I shall carry your bag.”

Tim paused. While it would be nice to have someone help with the bag so he could take photos, he wasn’t sure Damian was the man for the job. He trusted Damian- and wasn’t that something he never thought he’d think- but he was carrying thousands of dollars of glass.

Dick, being awesome, cut in. “Nah, Little D. We’re going to train tonight and I don’t want you powdering out because you’re exhausted. I’ll help Tim with the camera stuff.”

Damian sniffed. “Fine. Though when I defeat you I shall feel no guilt over this moment. A true warrior uses every advantage they can get.”

‘Thank you’ Tim mouthed over Damian’s head the moment the boy’s back was turned. ‘No Prob’ Dick responded in kind.

The garden were linear, biomes sectioned in stages between short hallways. They lingered in each, allowing Tim to capture photos of whatever caught his fancy. He snuck in several candids, immortalizing moments of the Wayne family outing. The first outing that they’d gone on together. Tim was sure Bruce would appreciate that.

“Hey Tim!” Dick called. “Get in between Jay and Damian! I want to snap a picture.” He waved his smartphone. Tim didn’t even have a chance to move, both boys swooping in to press against his side. Damian, who had an aversion to both cameras and touching, wrapped an arm around Tim’s hips.

The day felt like it was going perfect. Then they stepped into the Dark Knight biome.

It was fucking amazing.

Robin was made of vines, poppies, and marigolds that were growing out of a frame designed roughly in the shape of the boy. Flesh colored mushrooms had been used to imitate skin, and his cape was chrysanthemums. Batman was made entirely of black dahlias, save for his mushroom chin and daisy eyes. Both he and Robin were in dramatic poses and a man not made out of flowers stood wearily to the side. Going by the brown trench coat, glasses and cut down mop for hair, Tim figured it was Commissioner Gordon.

The rest of the biome had color arrangements based on Rogues. Two face had a stark color contrasting theme, there was a wall of ivy, and a corner was dedicated to black and white in the shape of a penguin.

Tim had arrived first, pushing ahead of the group in excitement. Taking in the scene with the skills of a Robin he spun, capturing everyone’s first look of the room on camera. The photo was amazing. Even Bruce, calm, collected Bruce, looked thoroughly horrified.

Tim was framing that forever.

X-x-x-x-x-x-x-x

There was a bounce in Tim’s step as he got out of the shower. He’d gone to bed at what Bruce considered to be a reasonable time and had awoken to a response from Jade. She hadn’t agreed to take the job, but she promised to listen to it and threatened to gut him if he ever used Roy to pass on a message to her again. Mailing Roy an anonymous note had been a risk, but the Arrows had always had more curiosity than good sense.

Plans were falling into place, he was going to spend part of the day going through his photos, figuring out which ones Alfred would want, and then he’d promised Damian that they’d spar together.

Tim hummed as he headed to the kitchen. Alfred was there, frying up something involving tofu for Damian, and greeted Tim with a smile. “Good moring, Master Tim. You are looking well.”

“I’m feeling well,” Tim said, walking straight to the coffee pot. He poured himself a cup of the dark goodness, inhaling the scent with pleasure.

“You are a bit earlier than usual. I’m afraid I have not yet prepared your morning meal,” the butler said with regret.

“Actually,” Tim sniffed the air, “I’d like to try that, if there is enough?”

Alfred smiled warmly at Tim. “There is certainly enough for you, dear boy.”

“Question,” Tim slid into the barstool at the counter. “Do you have an email or a computer or something? I took a bunch of photos yesterday, but my camera is digital and I don’t have a printer here.”

“I have a laptop,” responded Alred. “It was a Christmas present from Master Dick to allow me to “keep with it”.” Alfred’s voice was fondly exasperated. “While I am no programmer, I can work my way around the photo gallery.”

Tim grinned, trying to imagine Alfred’s face as Dick handed him a computer. The shocked Alfred of his universe was easily displaced by the image of this one’s confused smile.

The tofu cooked quickly and Alfred served it with a side of hashbrowns. The flavors burst against Tim’s tongue and he enjoyed the texture of the tofu as it fell apart in his mouth. It was delicious. Not a permanent substitute for bacon delicious, but it had its own place in cooking.

Damian came down the stairs next. “Greetings, Pennyworth. I trust breakfast is prepared?”

Alfred rolled his eyes. “It is, Master Damian, as it has been every morning since your arrival.”

“Excellent! The boy exclaimed. “You serve my Father well.” Alfred’s lips twitched, indicating he knew that there was a real compliment buried in that statement. “Timothy!” Damian exclaimed in surprise. “Did you not sleep again?” he asked suspiciously.

“I slept. I showered. I am now eating.” Tim pointed his fork at Damian, letting the boy know that he would not be bullied.

“That is not soup,” Damian said, stunned. “You are not eating soup.”

“Yes,” Tim nodded. “Hashbrowns are indeed not soup.”

“This is a cause of celebration! Pennyworth, fetch us wine.”

“We are not getting wine, and really, it is no big deal. I do eat, contrary to what you all believe.” Tim sighed in exasperation.

Damian scoffed, but let the matter drop. Instead he explained, in great detail, how he could easily have beaten Bruce Lee in a fight. Both Tim and Alfred catered to the conversation, agreeing whenever it was required.

Jay walked in during that and immediately attacked Damian’s argument, using his extensive knowledge of Kung Fu movies to tear apart Damian’s stance. When the conversation began to get heated, Alfred swooped in with scrambled eggs, toast and bacon, which immediately distracted Jay from the fight.

“I didn’t know you were a sucker for martial arts movies?” Tim mentioned.

Jay laughed. “I started watching them when I first became Robin, hoping I’d learn something. The first time I tried a karate chop Bruce had dragged me down to the Cave by my cape and taught me how to do it properly.”

Tim winced, immediately regretting bringing it up.

“Hey, what’s with the face?” Jay asked.

“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have asked.”

Jay leaned back. “Dude. I learned to karate chop. It was a bitchin move.”

Tim drummed his fingers. “Bruce can be a bit of a… taskmaster when teaching.” That was an understatement. Bruce either shipped you off to Paris or made you practice a move until your arm fell off.

“Other Bruce, maybe. But our Bruce is awesome. He let me practice on him. It was a fucking great time.”

“What was a great time?” asked Dick, walking into the room with a stretch.

“Learning Kung Fu from Bruce.” Jay called, scrambled eggs pouring out of his mouth.

“You should have followed me and learned escrima. I get to hit people with sticks.” Dick stole a piece of bacon directly from the plate. “How about you Tim? Which martial art did you first learn?”

Tim thought back. Rahul Lama’s training didn’t really count. Though he’d learned healing acupressure and mediation, he the only thing he’d gotten from the combat training was how to take a punch. “My first formal training was with the bo staff under Lady Shiva.”

The room fell deathly silent. “What?” Tim asked.

Jay looked to Dick, who sucked in a breath. “You’re telling us that you did combat training under Lady Shiva before you trained under Batman?”

Tim shifted in his seat, certain that he’d opened a can of worms but not really understanding what the problem actually was. “Yeah? Bruce sent me to Paris to learn this Tibetian thing, but the combat training was a bust. I ended up in a fight with King Snake and Lady Shiva trained me before I took him on.”

Dick took three steps and wrapped his arms around Tim, nearly pulling him off of the stool. He could feel Jay and Damian still staring at him, but just decided to roll with it.

That was when a haggard Bruce stepped into the room, his newspaper clenched in one hand. Dick let go, careful to make sure Tim wouldn’t fall from the change in balance. He gave his mentor a once over. “What’s wrong, B?” Unless Bruce had thrown a raging kegger in the Batcave after they had gone home, something else was causing a problem.

Bruce pinched his nose and handed Dick the newspaper. The teen took a look at the front page and immediately started to swear. Tim craned his neck to see the headline.

It’s Raining Children.

Underneath was a photo of all five of them in the arid biome. Damian had spent the entire time complaining that none of the truly interesting plants were there, such as the one that ate sheep, while Jay had scoffed. Tim had settled the argument in Damian’s favor with a quick google search.

“Vikki Vale?” Tim asked grimly. Dick nodded. “How bad?” There was no way that ‘good’ was on the table. Dick shook his head and handed Tim the paper.

The answer was really fucking bad. She’d been in the camera shop and had snapped a photo of Bruce his hand on Tim’s back while the boy looked up with a smile. She’d gotten a close up of Jay, so there was no denying who he was. She had followed them from there to the gardens.

The article was filled with questions as to why Bruce had faked Jason’s death and who the new children were. There was the usual speculation of his house being unhealthy for children, and the recent addition of two more being irresponsible at best.

“The largest problem is that she recognized Jason,” Bruce said, clenching his fists. “I’ve been working on the cover to bring him back to life, but hadn’t finalized all the details. I’ll need to do that before confronting the media. We’ll also have to go over cover stories.

“Damian and Jay we can stick close to the truth, that Damian was handed over by his mother and Jay was kidnapped in an attempt to use him against me. Tim will be more complicated.”

“Exchange student?” Tim asked.

Bruce frowned at him. “My other son, recently discovered. We’re doing a trial run of custody to see if living here is something you’d prefer. We'll have to invent a mother for you."

That was so flimsy. One paternity test, one extra snoopy reporter, and the cover would be blown. Any resemblance Tim had to Bruce was highly superficial at best. No one would fall for that. “No one is going to believe that.”

“It’s the truth.”

If you went the long way about it, Tim supposed. He was a Bruce Wayne’s 'son', and he and this Bruce meeting was a new development. Tim was staying here until Bruce let him go. Tim tapped his lips. “I suppose you’re right.”

He didn’t understand why Jay and Damian discretely fist bumped.

As he was not currently the CEO of Wayne Enterprises, Tim found himself with no means of affecting the situation so he retreated to his room to do exactly what he’d planned: edit his photos. Most people didn’t understand how time consuming it was to go through them, flipping this image for better balance, cropping that one for better symmetry, or deleting that one because the focus had been on the wrong object.

He sorted as he went, having created a file for both Bruce and Alfred. There was a lot of overlap as to what photo ended up where, but each man received a few that would be unique to his collection.

He was about halfway through when there was a knock against the door frame. He’d kept the door open in case Bruce needed anything regarding the media.

“Hey, Dick,” he smiled at the older teen, “what’s up?”

Dick shrugged. “Bored. Bruce is handling the media storm and has probably called every lawyer in the city. Damian and Jay are off bonding. I think they are marathoning Kung Fu movies?” He wrinkled his nose.

Tim laughed. “Not a fan?”

“I don’t mind them, but I’m not in the mood to tear apart why a fight was inaccurate.”

“That’s a fair point. But I’m afraid you won’t find much help here.” Tim waved at his computers. “I’m just doing picture stuff.”

“Well, if it wouldn’t be too distracting, we could hang? Maybe chat?” Dick sounded hopeful and Tim resisted the urge to desperately agree. This wasn’t Other Dick and Tim didn’t need to seek his approval. He actually stopped to consider the question.

“Sure,” he said after a beat, “as long as you promise not to be mad when I zone out on you.”

Dick grinned and jumped onto the bed, landing on his stomach his a bounce. Tim reached out to steady his laptop so it didn’t fall off his knees. “You’re like a puppy,” he groused. Dick just smiled larger, propping himself up on an elbow so he could also see the computer screen.

“Well, I am adorable.” Dick’s grin faded as a more serious look passed across his face. “I was talking to Jay and I realized that for as long as you’ve been here, I don’t really know you. I’ve been busy with Team stuff and Jay and Damian, and haven’t really been making time for you even though I promised.” Tim tried to wave it away but Dick shook his head. “I’m serious, and I don’t know that much about you, so I thought we could swap questions. I ask one, you ask one. You start?”

That was actually pretty useful. Files only said so much and Tim did have questions about what they didn’t contain. “How’d the team get started?”

Dick laughed. “Oh man, it was great.” He ran Tim through how they’d given themselves a mission after discovering that their mentors had lied about the Hall of Justice and Watchtower, rescued Superboy, and had basically browbeat the League into giving them the team.

Other Batman would have had a brain aneurysm and died if any of the Robins had so flagrantly disobeyed him.

Dick lobbed him a few easy ones. Where’d he grow up? What school did he go to? Favorite snack food? Tim kept poking about the team, learning that Wally had retired and gone off to college to be with the girl of his dreams, and where they’d acquired Wolf. He hesitated, needing the intel but knowing that if he opened that door, Dick step right through it.

“Why’d Kaldur change sides?” He kept his voice deceptively casual, not pausing as he edited a macro of a blooming crown of thorns.

Dick tried to match his casualness. “He and Aquagirl had been friends for a long time. She died in a mission gone wrong and he blames us.” Tim knew Dick. He might not know this Dick, but he’d spent years with a man with a decade more experience than this Dick, and Tim could see right through that one.

Dick was lying. Interesting.

“Why’d you become Robin?” Dick asked. “If you don’t want to answer, you don’t have to,” he rushed, giving Tim an out.

Tim didn’t need it. He’d expected a harder question. “Because he’d needed one.” Duh.

DIck frowned at him. “That’s not really an answer.”

Tim bit his lip, thinking the best way to put this. “Batman didn’t handle Jason’s death well. He was getting more violent, beating muggers half to death.” He closed the laptop and set it aside, turning a bit so he had a better view of Dick. “I had to call nine one one once so the guy didn’t die. He needed a Robin to balance him out. I knew who he was, so I told him thst, but Batman wouldn’t listen to me. I asked,” Dick? Grayson? Grayson, so this was less confusing, “Grayson to come back from being Nightwing, but he had Blüdhaven and wouldn’t hear of. He and Batman got captured by Two Face, so I had to step up because there was no one else.”

“Hold up,” Dick lifted a hand. “So you’re telling me you knew who Batman was?”

“Yeah, I figured it out when I was nine.” Tim shrugged. It was no big deal.

There was a heavy pause. “And you volunteered to be Robin because Batman couldn’t handle his own shit?” Dick’s voice had gone weirdly flat.

“He had a lot on his plate,” Tim defended. “What with protecting the city.”

Dick’s voice spiked with panic. “Were you following him around at night?”

“I took pictures. No one noticed. I have a bunch. It’s too bad they’re in my universe or I’d show you.” It was really no big deal. He’d only had his camera stolen once and they’d let him kept the film. His parents had purchased him a new one without asking any questions.

Dick flopped over so he was lying on his back, rubbing his nose. “How did the orphanage not notice you missing every night?”

Orphanage? Oh, that was probably a logical assumption, giving Dick and Jason’s history. “My parents were pretty busy.”

“But didn’t Bruce adopt you?” Tim could almost see Dick trying to fit the pieces of the puzzle together, but there were too many holes.

Tim sighed. “My Mom was murdered on a business trip. Later, my Dad was murdered by Captain Boomerang.” He couldn’t hide the bitterness in his voice.

“I’m sorry,” Dick said sincerely. “I shouldn’t have asked about your parents.”

“It’s fine.” It really was. Dick’s parents were a taboo topic, but Tim didn’t seem to feel grief about his the same way Dick did. He hurt over the fact he and his Dad were finally starting to spend time together and mourned the lost chance to get to know the man, but all he really remembered about his mom was how fierce she could be, how cutting she was without ever raising her voice.

“We should go check on Bruce,” Dick announced. He sprang back to his feet. “I want to know if we’re suing Vikki Vale or not.”

X-x-x-x-x-x-

Not only were they not suing Vikki Vale, the woman had been invited to Bruce’s press conference. Tim had been stuffed into a Givenchy suit that didn’t fit, an old castoff of Jay’s, and had been given a place to stand by Bruce’s elbow. He put on his best Drake heir smile, pleasant without being too genuine (don’t ever let them know what you’re thinking, Tim). Dick stood on Bruce’s other side, oozing charm as though as though he was a naturally occuring fountain. Damain stood in front of Dick, eyeing the crowd suspiciously for assassins. Dick had a firm grip on Damian’s shoulders so the boy couldn’t jump anyone, and they might have actually succeeded in removing all his knives.

Jay was staying at the Manor, having told Bruce in no uncertain terms that he would have a freak out if he had to stand in front of all the flashing cameras. Bruce hadn’t pressed the issue, so Jay and Alfred were watching the live footage together. Tim expected a lot of teasing when he got home.

They were in front of Wayne Enterprises on the small platform that was usually reserved for press conferences on the company’s latest development. Bruce didn’t want the conference at the Manor, and there was no where else that could be set up in such short notice. There was a buzz in the air as speculation was spilled from one reporter to the next.

Bruce lifted his hand, a hush falling over the crowd.

“I know many of you have questions, but I will not be taking any at this time.” Bruce kept his face mild, wearing his business man persona as though it was his genuine self.

“Mr. Wayne, are the allegations true? DId you really fake the death of your own son?”

Bruce showed enormous self control when he didn’t glare at the man. “As I said, I will not be taking questions and the next person to interrupt will be removed by security,” he rebuked. The reporter dropped back into his chair, clearly not wanting to be ousted from the announcement of the season.

Bruce adjusted his tie, making it look as though he was composing himself. “I am sure that all of you have read Miss Vale’s article on my sons. The truth of the matter is that yes, Jason Todd is alive, though that knowledge has only recently come to light. A terrorist organization faked his death and recently ransomed him back to me. The police were not involved.

“I made no announcement as my son is currently traumatized from being held captive for so long under such circumstances, and I implore you all the respect his privacy.” The look Bruce gave the crowd made it clear that that was an order, not a request, from the richest man in the city.

“Now these,” he motioned and both Tim and Damian took a step forward, “are my other sons. This is Damian,” he motioned to the boy who stiffly nodded, “and Timothy,” Tim gave a socially acceptable wave. “Their mother is a woman who enjoys her privacy, and while I have had relations with her over the years, I was unaware that it had resulted in my boys.” Wait. There was something wrong with that statement. “She is in a position where caring for my sons is no longer tenable and has left both boys in my custody."

No, Bruce! That was not the cover! Pulls a stop it now, Bruce! "It is an adjustment for all involved,” Bruce stroked Damian’s back in a show of parental care. They’d warned the boy that this was a necessary act so he didn’t flinch at the sudden contact. “I will be throwing a gala so that the world may meet my newest sons properly.” And with that Bruce ending the press conference and the family was loaded into a waiting car.

"That was not the cover!" Tim hissed. "That was nowhere near the cover!"

Bruce shrugged as though it was no big deal. "It was an inspired improv."

“I’m white, Bruce! Damian is Middle Eastern!”

Bruce waved his hand. “Recessive genetics.”

"You've told the world that I was Ra's Al Ghul's grandson, Bruce! His grandson!" Talia was going to kill him. Ra’s was either going to kill him or worse, adopt him. This was not a family that Tim needed to have any connection with.

Damian placed a hand on Tim's knee. "Is being my brother truly so awful?" He looked at Tim with wide jade eyes that held sadness and a hint of confusion.

“No Damian, that isn’t the problem.”

“I don’t understand.” Damian looked to Bruce for answers.

Tim deflated like a balloon. " It's fine. Being your brother is awesome." Dammit, Damian was adorable when he wasn’t threatening people.

He missed Damian’s smirk.

Chapter Text

Jade had agreed to the contract, but Tim was wondering if it was too late to amend the terms and have her take him out instead. Given that she'd taken it just because of the no killing clause, Tim doubted she mend the agreement even if he doubled her offer.

While the media had done as Bruce requested and left Jay alone, the media was having a field day with Tim and Damian. They were trending under the hashtag #wayneprinces and there were no less than five Reddit threads with conspiracies as to who they actually were. Tim did damage control, flaming one rumor while pointing out the flaws of another.

He flopped onto Bart's bed. "How is this my life?" he whined at the speedster.

"Yeah, being adopted by a billionaire. That's rough," Bart said without an ounce of sympathy.

"A gala, Bart. I'm going to have to play socialite."

"Oh no, a fancy party," was the sarcastic response.

"I thought we were pals," Tim grumbled. "But if we aren't I guess I'm going to have to eat this pluots by myself." He sat up, fishing out the fruit.

The air buzzed as the fruit vanish from Tim's hand, the only indication that Bart had even moved was the pluot in his hand. "Yes yes. I agree your life sucks." He bit into the fruit, rolling it over his tongue.

"Verdict?"

Bart swallowed and looked thoughtful. "It's weird." He took another bite. "I love it. This was the real reason I came back. The rest is just a distraction." He happily munched on the fruit.

There was a knock on the door, and Superboy came in. He closed the door behind him. "Progress?" He asked, all business.

"No, fruit." Bart held up the mostly eaten pluot. Superboy sighed.

"Actually, I've had an idea, a two for one, really." Conner crossed his arms and leaned against the wall. He titled his head, radiating 'get on with it’. Tim obliged him. "Vandal Savage is a genius and immortal. Dude's as old as dirt. He's seen practically everything. So we can't surprise him."

"So what does that leave?" Asked Bart, tossing the core into the garbage.

"Tricks," grunted Conner. "Misdirection."

Tim nodded. "Right, we're going to steal a bunch of his money. He's got too much to cripple him, but it will piss him the hell off."

Bart did not look impressed. "And then all my friends can be dead in the present as well as the future. Whee."

Conner titled his head, a gleam in his eye. Tim recognized it. It matched his own. "What are you thinking?"

"We give the money to the Brain. The guy is always a bit strapped because his experiments are expensive and he can't exactly get a job."

"Savage follows the money, finds the Brain, and at least one of them is out while the other is out or paranoid." Conner gave a vicious smile, following the logic.

"I can probably make it look like he was the one who skimmed from Luthor too." Tim mused.

"Ha!" Bart grinned. "We'll have them shattered in no time." Tim shook his head and Bart's shoulders drooped. "What am I missing?" he asked with a sigh.

"This would be a last step. We can't do it until we've weakened them," Conner pointed out. Tim grinned, impressed with how familiar Conner was with strategy. And Bart here wasn't ignorant because he didn't care but because he was on unfamiliar footing. The future sounded like it was a strike while the iron was hot kind of place.

"So we'll figure out what next. Who else is there? Luthor, Black Manta. Who else?" Tim asked, ruminating. It was getting hard to keep track. He needed to make more files on his laptop.

"Sports Master." Conner supplied, spitting the man's name.

"And Klarion." Tim mused.

"Man, that means we're halfway there," Bart was blurring with excitement. "That's so crash. We totally need to celebrate!"

Tim sighed in misery. "Can't. I have to go get a suit fitted.”

x-x-x-x-x-x-

Tim looked at the weird orange color of his pill bottle. If he took the entire thing, maybe he wouldn’t have to go to the gala. He sighed as he rolled the bottle in his hand, the pills clicking together. Bruce was investing a lot of time into Tim’s wellbeing, and given how freaked he’d been about the tiff with Ra’s, Tim didn’t really want to screw the man over.

He set the pill bottle back on the counter. Really, he shouldn’t be whining. Jay was pretty freaked out about it. Tim hadn’t realized that Jay wasn’t handling everything as well as he appeared to be. He never allowed himself to be alone, moving from one family member to the next to keep everyone from noticing. He had slid his mattress to the floor because the ceiling was too close when he tried to sleep and he was also following in Damian’s footsteps and had hidden a dagger in his boot.

Jay had to make an appearance at the gala else the rumors would only increase in intensity, but he was fairly certain everyone planned to have him evacuated as soon as was socially acceptable.

“Timothy! Are you prepared?”

“Almost!” Tim called back and started to fix his tie, the original reason he’d come into the room in the first place. It was dark blue and brought out his eyes. He tied it in a simple knot. He knew the more complicated ones, but this was an easy introduction to Gotham’s elite. Anything fancier would be deemed as overcompensation and Tim would have to deal with increasing levels of pretentiousness for the evening. He was stepping onto the floor as Tim Wayne making his first debut, not Tim Wayne CEO, or even Tim Drake heir to Drake Industries.

They’d likely expect something more akin to Jay, someone unpolished, a duck amongst swans. Fresh meat. Tim had no worries about Damian. If he could hold back the murder threats, he would fit right in. And Tim was an expert at galas.

He could almost hear his mother’s voice. Don’t fidget, don’t hide by the buffet and for god’s sake smile, Timothy. Last time you were stilted and Mr. Sanders thought we brought you when you were ill. She had wrinkled her nose in distaste, as though none of her blood had ever contracted so much as the sniffles.

Smoothing any possible wrinkles from his fitted suit, he stepped into the hallway where an impatient Damian was waiting. He hadn’t taken up pacing, but his hands were folded behind his back and he was glaring fiercely. “If you are done preening, we need to meet Father in the ballroom. If we are late I will assuredly blame you.”

Tim grinned. “It’s fashionable to be late.”

Damian scoffed. “A foolish tactic. It is better to scout the terrain before your opponent arrives.”

“It’s a ballroom, Damian, and one you’ve been in before. If you don’t know how many exits the room has by now I will eat my shoe.”

Damian wrinkled his nose and shot Tim a disgusted look. “A repulsive metaphor.”

They arrived before any of the guests and Alfred ushered them into a line, from oldest to youngest. There had been a bit of math involved in trying to decipher as to whether Tim or Jay was actually older, an argument Jay had settled by calling dibs. Bruce had materialized in one of his more playful suits, as Tim suspected he would, and steeled himself to deal with the headache that was Brucie.

The clock struck the hour that the gala was set to start and no one came through the door. Damian tilted his head. “Is meeting the scions of Wayne not interesting enough for the people of Gotham?” he sneered, offended by the lack of guests.

Tim leaned over. “As I said, fashionable.”

Mr Belmont and his wife were the first to arrive, her face souring with displeasure when that fact was realized. Unfortunately, she chose to make up for that gafe by spending the extra time fawning over Damian.

“Oh, what a handsome young man.” She cooed, unaware that she was taking her life in her hands. “You look just like your daddy! Just adorable in your little suit! And your tie is so cute! Did your daddy help you pick it out? It’s just darling!”

“I am in a wardrobe befitting my station, and as I am my Father’s son the resemblance is only logical,” Damian snapped.

Mrs Belmont’s smile froze, something ugly behind it. Tim wanted to tut at the woman. Never let them see behind the mask, Tim.

She looked up and down Damian with her curdled smile. She let out a fake laugh. "Your English is very good."

Now that just wouldn’t do.

Tim's mask was perfectly in place as he placed a hand on Damian's shoulder, though he was certain that Damian understood that he'd been slighted he wasn't sure the younger boy understood the nature of the attack.

"But of course, Mrs Belmont," Tim said pleasantly, as though they were simply discussing the weather. "Our Mother afforded us only the best opportunities. Gotham has been a change as we are used to," he gave her look she'd given Damian, "something classier."

She retreated quickly under the guise of admiring the decor. Jay leaned over to whisper in Tim's ear. "That was magic. I was just going to punch her. Low five."

Tim didn't break character as he discreetly clapped his hand against Jay's.

That was how the first part of the evening went. People either gushed over Damian like he was a new pet or oozed at Jay as though they'd cared deeply before he died. Tim mediated, preventing the others from saying something that would make the papers while driving off guests who overstepped.

The moment they'd been allowed to disperse, Jay and taken Damian's hand and fled. Dick had drifted to the dance floor, no shortage of Gotham's most eligible bachelorettes to dance with. Tim had grabbed a flute of champagne and stepped directly into the lion's den.

He'd done his research, knew who was up to what in the business world and socially who couldn't stand to be within ten feet of each other. He moved from group to group, pulling out secrets while offering nothing of himself. The business people praised him for taking after his father and the socialites continually asked about his schooling.

Tutors, he said, as though school wasn't something he'd failed at.

Catwoman was a pleasant interruption from the tediousness of it all.

"Hello," she purred. "I'm Selina Kyle, a close and… personal friend of your Father's." And was that a hint of jealousy?

She reached out to shake his hand and if Tim hadn't been watching for it he would have never noticed the way his watch slid off his wrist. He didn't fuss nor did he stare as he tried to figure out exactly where she'd pocketed the Cartier.

"It's a pleasure, Miss Kyle."

"The pleasure is mine." She gave a silvery laugh. "I must admit that you are the only one of Bruce's children that I could speak with. I'm far too old to dance with Dick and the other two have all but disappeared." Her smile took on an edge. "How has Jay been adjusting?"

Ah, another universe, another day of awkward costume sexual tension. In his universe Selina had been pissed that Bruce hadn't invited her to the funeral. Jay had been a Robin and, as far as Tim could tell, if it belonged to Batman Catwoman had partial claim.

It looked like Bruce hadn't filled her in on Jay's resurrection. That sounded like a Him problem.

"All things considered he's been doing well." He wasn't a homicidal drug lord, so Tim felt confident in his answer. Bruce still hadn't tried sparring, but he had set Jay up with Dinah and, unlike Tim, the boy hadn't complained about it.

Selina look sincerely pleased at the news and it gave Tim a rush of warmth. Jay needed people in his corner.

"So I hear that you are fairly knowledgeable about business. Do you intend to follow in your Father's footsteps?" A nice double edged question. Shame Tim had no intention of talking about anything Bat related.

Tim hummed. "Wayne Enterprise does have its charm," he dodged. "But how about you? What do you do to occupy your time?"

"I dabble in art," Selina said with a sly smile, her cat earrings and matching pendant twinkling in the light. She did so enjoy playing on the edge.

"Ah, Tim," Bruce sidled up, "and Miss Kyle! Pleasure to see you again." He was in Playboy mode and Tim prepared himself for Bruce's grating laugh.

"Bruce," she placed a hand on his chest. "It was wonderful to hear about Jay in the papers." Batman was definitely going to get clawed the next time he went out.

"It's been quite the miracle, though I do wish Miss Vale had approached me first. She has my number." He sighed mournfully. "Poor Jay has been a bit of a mess. But," he waved a hand as though his thousand dollar tie pin hadn't just been filched, "I'm actually here to steal Tim." He gave a chuckle that didn't burst Tim's eardrums.

“Alright, I suppose.” Tim agreed as though he was put upon. “But first, Miss Kyle, I would propose a trade?”

“Oh?” She watched Tim with interest.

He held up a gold bracelet that had a dozen or so cat charms dangling off, each with diamond eyes. “This for the return of my watch.”

She leaned back in thought before a wily smile spread across her face. “Keep it. This way we will both have something to commemorate this evening with.” That… was not what Tim expected. He looked to Bruce who just gave an oh so helpful shrug.

Bruce led Tim away from the crowd until they had pseudo privacy behind a pillar.

"Tim, are you alright?" This was real Bruce speaking, sounding concerned. Tim ran through his head possible errors he had made.

He thought he was good. "Did I offend someone?" He’d been careful to not say anything he could be called on. Maybe this was about Selina?

Bruce clapped a hand on Tim's shoulder but didn't answer the question. "Can you find your brothers? I can't slip away long enough to check on them."

As though summoned by magic, Mr Vandergilt popped up. "There you are, Bruce! I was wondering if I might have a moment of your time?"

"Of course," Bruce said back with charm, "I can always lend an ear to a friend." He swung an arm around Mr Vandergilt and threw a look over his shoulders that read 'see what I mean?' just as Mr Vandergilt launched into talk about the upcoming Mayoral election.

Okay, so hunting for Jay and Damian. By process of elimination, if they were still at the party, they were either on the balcony or by the buffet, as those were the places most frequented by those who Did Not Want to be at the party. Tim was feeling thirsty, his flute a prop more than a beverage, he decided to hit the buffet first.

As he approached he could see Damian, the boy’s back to Tim, and an older man hovering over the pastries. They appeared to be chatting and Damian was at least starting to look like he wasn’t going to have a brain aneurysm from all the stress. Tim felt his shoulders unclench as he realized that at least someone here was going out of their way to make Damian seem welcome.

Then he caught the profile of the man’s face.

Walking as fast as he could without running despite his legs singing for him to do just that, he made his way to the buffet. “Damian,” he said with his party smile, getting the boy’s attention. Damian was holding a blondie in one had and a glass of punch in the other. The blondie was missing half. “Do not drink that. Do not eat that.”

Damian’s eyes widened, though whether it was over the command or Tim’s ability to speak Arabic he didn’t know. Tim was by no means a master of it, as his accent pegged him as someone who had taken it up as a second language, but the crucial point was that Jacob Fucking Campbell didn’t speak a word of it.

“Oh! I’m sorry!” Tim turned to the man. Jacob Campbell was younger than Bruce, an up and coming with strong ties to Lex Corp. He ran a tech industry and rumor had it that their latest project was going to change the way the world thought about mobile networks. He was charming and had made his way through the talk show circuit with every behind the scenes article praising for how he treated the set crews, and how generous he was, donating much of his funds to children’s charities. “I was just telling my brother here that Father had asked me to find him. Come, Damian. We shouldn’t leave Father waiting.” Tim took Damian’s punch and slotted the boy’s hand into his own.

He pulled Damian to the staircase. “How much did you drink?” The cup wasn’t full. Dammit.

“That was my only cup.”

Jacob Fucking Campbell was a pedophile, one Batman had never caught. It had been the best of Metropolis that had discovered the man’s proclivities. Campbell was careful, his drugs specifically designed to create gaps in memory, but the man the man was also reckless as he sought out children who the world thought were safe from all that. He enjoyed dominating, in the emotional distress of his victim’s powerlessness at his hands.

Prideful and the son of the richest man in Gotham, Damian was an ideal target.

“Is that man an enemy?”

Tim nodded, pulling the blondie from Damian’s hand and wrapping it in a napkin before stuffing it into the pocket of his suit. He recaptured Damian’s hand and ushered him up the stairs.

“He didn’t look like much. I could have taken him in combat.”

“No!” Damian reared back, unprepared for the forcefulness of Tim’s tone. “It’s not always about combat, Damian. You will stay away from that man. Eat nothing he gives you.”

“Poisons then. A coward’s tool.” Damian nodded as though he understood. Okay, that was good enough. Tim wanted Damian to be young as long as he could be.

At the top of the spiraling staircase sat the mess that was Jay, tie undone and hanging off of his shoulders and a haunted look in his eye. Before Tim was all the way up, Jay was already shaking his head. “I don’t care what Bruce says. I ain’t goin down there again. If I hear someone tell me ‘I’m so brave, so strong,’ I’m gonna fucking lose it.”

Dammit. Dammit dammit dammit.

Tim pulled them both to the top step, sitting so he that he was in between Damian and Jay. And oh, this stair set was far sneakier than Tim had realized. They were practically out of sight, but the acoustics of the room had conversations drifting up in near perfect clarity, which explained Jay’s growing panic at Tim. He knew that Bruce had sent him on this mission.

“You are currently schrodinger’s attendee and I’m content with that,” Tim nudged Jay in the side.

Jay snorted. “Isn’t that the guy with the dog drool?”

“Plebeian,” Damian snorted. “That is Pavlov. Schrodinger performed a thought experiment with the cat in the box that was both alive and not alive until observed.”

“Listen, gremlin, just because I don’t know the name of every fucking scientist-”

“The cat was exploding!” Tim burst in. The other boys turned to look at him.

“Da fuck?” asked Jay.

“Einstein and Schrodinger worked on the problem to make fun of people who did thought experiments,” Tim said much more calmly, “so Einstein’s cat was in a box being shot, simultaneously exploding and not exploding at the same time.”

Damian looked outraged. “Einstein shot at cat?”

“Hush, Damian,” Tim implored, not wanting the younger boy to give away their hiding spot.

Damian’s shout turned into a whisper. “He shot a cat? He is a disgrace to his legacy!”

“I’m with gremlin. That’s messed up.”

Well, he’d turned the fight into agreement. “He only thought about shooting a cat.”

“Still messed up.” Jay heaved a sigh. “I really wish I had a fucking smoke.”

Tim gave him a side eyed look. “I thought you quit?”

Jay rolled his eyes, so done with tonight’s bullshit. “Which is why I fucking wish I had one instead of being on the balcony actually fucking smoking one. As compensation for that stupid fucking question, you should give me your punch. I couldn’t make it to the buffet.”

Tim pulled the punch out of Jay’s way as the other boy made a reach for it, wincing as some of it sloshed down the side. “The hell, Tim?” Jay said with actual heat.

“It is poisoned,” Damian said solemnly.

Jay blinked at both of them. “You two playing pretend or something?”

Damian scoffed, his body twisting into indignation. “Only children play. Tim says the punch has been fouled, so the punch has been fouled. I suggest he let you drink it to prove his theory.”

Ugh, Tim hadn’t wanted anyone in on this until he’d been positive. He resigned himself to explaining. “One of the guests here was major bad news in my world. I don’t know if he is here, but I need to find out. I’m going to analyze the punch to confirm or disprove. Damian and I are on the way to the...lab if you want to come?”

Jay gave them a desperate look. “Won’t Bruce be pissy if we leave our party?”

“He should have invited better guests,” Tim countered.

Jay rubbed his chin and bit his lip, the part of him that was Batman’s partner and always had his back warring with his self preservation instincts.

While he was considering, a voice floated up the stairs. “I must say, Bruce, that I am appalled at the state of your bathroom.”

“I’m sorry?” asked Bruce, genuinely confused.

“There is only half a sink! How is one to wash their hands?”

Jay sprung to his feet. Tim matched the motion and grabbed Damian, the three of them racing from the gala. “I thought you cleaned that up!” Tim hissed.

“I swept!”

Dammit, Jay!

After spending extra time to make sure they weren’t followed, the three of them slipped into the cave. Tim told Damian to sit and the younger boy plopped into a chair without complaint. He’d spilled more punch than he was comfortable with, but there was still more than enough to analyze. He handed the blondie off to Jay.

“If this turns out not to be poisoned, I’m eating it,” Jay vowed, scraping a portion off into a flask. “What exactly am I testing for? Damian said poisoned, so what? Shit that kills people? Shit that makes them sick?”

“Shit that makes them cooperative.”

Tim could see the light go off in Jay’s eyes. He’d grown up on the street and had grown up fast. But he’d seen how the other side lived, the bubble that encompassed the rich. While he knew it could happen, here was not one of those places. “You’re trying to tell me that some dude was ballsy enough to try and slip Damian Wayne van candy? In Bruce’s house?” Tim just nodded. He could see Jay flip between rage and skepticism and back again.

“I could be wrong,” Tim admitted. “But that’s what he did in my world.” His take down had shaken the elite to their core. “So we test.”

“Such bullshit.” Tim didn’t know if it was the possibility of a sexual predator, someone going after Damian, or Tim making him run tests.

He didn’t ask.

Damian fell asleep in his chair while Jay threatened repeatedly to eat the blondie, test after test coming up negative. The gala had to be winding down about now, and Bruce had probably realized that his sons had abandoned him to the wolves, which is what the man deserved for inviting them into his home. The best part is that all three of them had managed to dodge Vikki Vale, her only quotes to come from either Dick or Bruce who both knew the game and she knew it. She was going to go home furious.

One of Tim’s slides sharply turn color and he hissed. “Jay,” he called. “Run a microcrystalline test using cobalt nitrate as the reagent.”

Jay cocked his head and came over. He looked at Tim’s test sample. “Fuck,” he whispered. He’d clearly been humoring Tim, expecting this to be another point where someone who was a dick in Tim’s universe was actually a cool person here. Tim actually appreciated that Jay had been willing to waste hours of his life simply for Tim’s peace of mind.

Steph, Dick and Cassie hadn’t given him five minutes to explain his reasoning.

Tim followed Jay to his own station. Campbell had proven himself to be a bad dude, but they needed to know just how much of the drug Damian had consumed.

When Jay’s test came back positive, Tim shook Damian awake. “Damian, I need you to talk to me.”

Damian grumbled. “I am talking to you.” He wasn’t slurring his words, but Tim didn’t know exactly what Campbell’s drug had done. “Can you stand?” Damian stood up to prove that he could do it. That was a good sign, no loss of motor control.

“Maybe Damian’s immune?” Jay pondered. “League of Assassin training and all that.”

Tim shook his head. “No, we’re just missing something here.”

“I think he didn’t have enough,” Jay breathed out. “Either way, he seems fine." Jay came up behind Tim and put a hand on his shoulder. “This is good Tim. Come on. If you’re happy and you know it clap your hands and all that.”

Damian clapped his hands.

“Oh fuck.” Jay said. “Damian, stay.”

Idiot. Tim had been so relieved that Damian wasn’t giving him pushback that he didn’t even stop to consider that that in itself was a problem. He’d obeyed Tim’s every command, had allowed Tim to literally drag him around. And Tim had appreciated it because it made dealing with Damian easier. Dammit, he owed Damian more than that. He was a terrible fucking brother.

“I’m gonna kill him,” Jay moved towards the wall where they’d taken to storing Damian’s knives. They couldn’t let Damian keep them but also couldn’t get rid of them, so Bruce had compromised with a case with a lock. A lock that Jay was making very short work of.

“You don’t even know who “him” is.” Tim pointed out, following Jay.

“I’m gonna find out. Then I’m gonna kill him.”

“Jay,” Tim reached out for the shoulder boy.

Jay knocked him away, shoving hard enough that Tim hit the ground. He looked up Jay, the older boy shaking with rage, glaring down at Tim with murder in his eyes.

Tim couldn’t have bitten back the whimper to save his life. He was back in the Titan’s Tower again, alone against a man who was bigger than Tim, better trained, and attacking with a frenzy. Tim had been certain, despite all his bravado and big words, that he wasn’t going to wake up from that attack, that the Titans were going to find a real shattered corpse in amongst the memorials.

“You’re okay. Not going to die. I’m over here. See? Nice, big distance between us. And Damian’s there. See? Damian wouldn’t hurt you.”

“Damian left me to die in the bottom of this cave.” Also shattered and bleeding, alone and somewhere he was supposed to be safe.

“I did not,” Damian sounded confused. Not angry. Like something was wrong.

“Not this Damian,” Jason crooned. “ And I’m Jay. Come on, Tim. Come back. I promise I won’t hurt anyone, but I need you to come back from wherever you are. You’re here now, and here is safe.” His was warm and comforting instead of scorching with rage. Jason never sounded comforting.

Tim blinked. He was curled into a ball, trembling like jello. Jay was a good ten feet away while Damian was still standing by the chairs, looking anxious as hell. “Jay?” He blinked, stretching out. His body protested the movement.

“Yeah, Tim. That’s right. It’s Jay.”

Shit. Well, this was embarrassing. “Sorry,” Tim apologized.

Jay let out a wry laugh. “That’s my line. Am I good to come over?” He peered at Tim anxiously.

“Yeah,” Tim heaved out a breath. “Yeah, it’s good.”

Jay crawled his way over, “It’s not good, but we can work with that.” He still stopped about a foot away from Tim. “I’m not going to kill anyone, I promise,” He held up his hand in a scout’s salute, “but we do need to deal with that guy. We’ll tell Bruce.”

“Yeah,” Tim breathed, digging through his memories of this own universe, on how they cops had caught on. It had been a huge scandal. Luthor had to spin his PR hard to not get caught up in it.

Oh. My. God.

“Don’t tell, Bruce!”

“Tim,” Jay frowned at him reproachfully. “Our Bruce will help.”

“I know.” Jay’s frown deepened. “I know. But I can use this to take out the guy and fuck over Luthor.” And knock Luthor clean out of the Light. Tim stood, brushing at his suit as though his hands could salvage it from the mess it had become. “I promise I’ll handle it. Give me a week”

Jay sighed. “Fine. But if you don’t, we’re telling Batman.”

“Absolutely.” A week was more than enough time.

Chapter Text

Damian’s memories of the gala were vague and Bruce was furious, as he had come to the conclusion that someone had spiked the punch and gotten his youngest hella drunk. Tim ran with it, explaining that he and Jay had taken the inebriated Damian out of the public eye and had tucked the boy into bed. Tim had done all the talking. He was pretty sure the only reason that Jay was sticking to the plan was because he was feeling guilty about the incident in the cave.

As soon as he could he made his way to Mount Justice, Damian being left in Bruce’s care so the man could fuss over his son. Dick had obviously picked up the tension between Tim and Jay and was playing the part of human wall, as though that would somehow help. But the thought was nice, that Dick would put himself between Tim and a proverbial bullet.

He’d packed his camera, with the excuse that he wanted to capture memories for the team, and had spent the sparring session shooting photos instead of fighting. Jay made sure to keep his distance, glowering at Tim from the corner, which was unfortunate as Tim wanted a better photo of Jay than that.

He wasn’t able to get Bart and Conner alone until well after lunch. They met in the kryptonian’s room under the excuse of listening to music.

“I,” Tim announced, “have the ultimate plan to take out Luthor. It’s morally gray, would definitely be frowned upon by everyone associated with the Justice League, but will cause such a shit storm that the man will have no choice but to back out of the Light.”

“I don’t care how we do it,” announced Bart. “Luthor deserves every bad thing to happen to him.” There was something personal there.

Conner crossed his arms from where he was leaning against the wall. “How morally gray are we talking?”

“One of his known associates is a pedophile.” Tim felt the room shift, the way the air did when a storm was brewing. “In my universe he was caught because someone had accused him of corporate espionage and when the police raided his computer they found his videos.”

“I’m not seeing how Luthor factors into this,” Conner growled out.

“Luthor is currently wining and dining the guy because he wants his brains. If Luthor can merge their companies he’s looking at making millions. When this went down in my universe, it took Luthor a lot of effort to distance himself.”

“Okay,” Bart stretched out his shoulder, leaning back. “So we drop the anonymous tip and hope it plays out the same way?” Tim gave a manic smile. “Oh shit. I know that look.”

“We make Luthor look involved.”

Both Conner and Bart were stunned. It was Conner who recovered first. “You intend to frame Luthor as a pedophile?”

“I do,” Tim hummed, feeling extremely pleased.

“Oh my god. What if this actually send him to jail?” Bart rubbed his hands gleefully.

Tim shrugged. “He should be there anyway. As you said, he deserves bad things.”

“That’s great in theory, but how do you plan to do that?” Conner pushed against the wall, straightening with his hands making fists.

“Computer security in this world is shit. Like, everywhere. My universe has several master hackers who aren’t here so no one’s had to update the way we have. We take Campbell’s child porn files, plant them on Luthor’s computer, and make a tip against about them both.”

“Solid plan, my dude.” The speedster put his arms akimbo. “When you said morally gray, I actually thought it would be worse.”

“It is,” Tim admitted. “And I’m going to need your help with this, Bart.” Tim looked at his camera bag and sighed. “If their collection is all the same Luthor will be able to claim that’s he’s being framed. We need to give him his own photos.”

“You want Bart to make child porn?” Conner grabbed Tim’s collar, lifting the boy so only his toes touched the ground.

“No,” Tim choked out. “No.” Conner lowered him to the ground but didn’t let go of his shirt. “I want Bart to go to places Luthor’s taken business trips and take pictures of little kids. Making it look like he’s been fantasizing and that meeting Campbell caused him to escalate.”

Conner let go and Tim breathed in relief. “That’s twisted.”

Tim nodded. “Very. But we’re talking the fate of the world here, and this will be effective. Though we’re on a timeline. Jacob Campbell went after Damian and it will take Jay a whole five minutes to figure out who this guy is. He’s given me a week to sort the problem out on my own. If it takes longer than that Jay’s going to go to Batman and I’m going to have to come up with one hell of a story as to what I thought I was doing.”

“Are you comfortable with this,” Conner demanded of Bart.

Bart shrugged. “It’s still not as bad as I thought it would be.”

Wow, Future Tim was an asshole. “How soon do you think you can get the photos?”

“If you have a list of places, three days at the longest. Nightwing might be a problem.”

Yeah, he would be. Tim sighed, actually feeling a little guilty. “I can probably distract him a little. He’s been wanting to spend more time bonding.” And Tim appreciated that. He just didn’t want their relationship to be based on subterfuge.

They kicked around a few ideas for Black Manta and Klarion. Honestly, Tim was feeling a bit vindictive about his kidnapping and it was showing, so all his Black Manta plans were being struck down, even by Bart. With nothing more coming out of their plotting, they headed their separate ways.

Tim headed to the terminal, planning on working on the coding he’d promised Bruce. Given all the excitement of these past few weeks, Tim was definitely not on schedule. He met Jay when he was about halfway there.

Jay’s expression was fixed, as though it was a mask and he had a real face underneath. He was definitely pissed, but trying not to show it so Tim didn’t have another episode. Which was nice, but Tim couldn’t help the way his breathing started to hitch. “Heya, Tim!” Jay’s voice was strained with repressed emotion. “Got something you want to share?”

Tim tried to take in a deep breath. “No?” He squeaked.

“I think you got something you need to share,” and there, held between Jay’s finger and thumb, was an earpiece.

A bug. Which means Jay had heard everything.

Oh. Fucking. Shit. “I can explain?” Tim’s voice continued to rise until it cracked on the last word.

“Cool. Why don’t we go to my room so we can do that!” Jay grabbed Tim by the elbow, roughly dragging the boy down the hall. He practically tossed Tim into a room and activated the locks behind. Tim was now trapped in a room with an angry Jason. Great. That was just great.

Jay’s weird smile dropped. “Let me lay it out. I’m not gonna hurt you, but I am hella pissed. I’m trusting you enough to explain instead of dropping that recording in Nightwing’s fucking lap.”

Tim tried to slow his breathing. This was Jay. Jay was cool. “You do that and Bart will die.” Jay didn’t react to the statement, letting Tim stutter this out at his own speed. “There’s a traitor in the Justice League who helps the Light out with a plan that succeeds in taking out the League and giving them control of Earth.” Calm. He was calm. Clear the mind. “We’re going to take the Light apart, piece by piece, so they can’t implement their plan.

“No one can know, Jay.” Tim managed to make eye contact. “Of the traitor finds out, Bart’s dead, I’m probably dead, and the Light wins.”

Jay pinched the bridge of his nose. “Catch and release, Bruce said. How the fuck are you such a magnet for this bullshit? And why didn’t you come to the Bats?”

“Bruce did kidnap me. And what do you mean, catch and release?”

Jay rolled his head back and looked to the ceiling, either asking the gods for help or for one to smite Tim. “Get over the kidnapping thing. You obviously fucking needed it.” He straightened and looked Tim over. “And even you have to admit you are a coffee addicted raccoon. Scary smart but honestly you live in the trash.”

Tim drew back, a hand on his chest. “My bedroom is spotless.”

Jay rolled his eyes. “It’s a fucking metaphor. I thought you prep school kids were supposed to be smart.”

“I dropped out of public school.”

Jay dramatically pointed a finger. “We are definitely revisiting that.” He crossed his arms. “The point is that you need someone to teach you to take care of yourself, to teach you that you are loved.”

“I know I’m loved. Cass loves me. She helps me on cases!”

“For the love of god, Tim, it’s not always about the Mission! People should love you so that even if you quit, even if you drop the cape, you’ll still have a place. I’m probably never going to fly again.”

“There’s time for you to change your mind.” Tim offered.

“And there is a room for me in the Manor if I don’t.” Jay pointed out. “There is space for me in this mountain. No one is going to cast me aside because I don’t do this anymore, no matter what my reason for quitting. No one is judging me for tapping out.

“That’s what we’re trying to give you here, Tim. That’s why Bruce took you. You were in a world where the Mission came first and damn everything else, and you were left in the gutter. That doesn’t happen here, Tim.

“You’re my fucking brother and I fucking love you.”

Tim stood frozen. Jay sighed and wrapped his arms around Tim, seemingly aware that he’d shorted the other boy out.

Tim didn’t know what to say. What would Janet Drake tell him to say? What would Bruce? Bruce would make it about the Mission.

“We still can’t tell anyone. The more people who know, the harder it is to control the changes. Time travel and all that.”

“Okay,” Jay agreed into his hair, “But I’m apart of this now. I got your back.”

“Can you help me keep Nightwing distracted?”

“Piece of cake.”

X-x-x-x-x-x

Apparently keeping Nightwing meant throwing Tim under the bus. Jay told Dick about the broken sink and Tim’s panic attack in the Batcave. He’d “ah shucks, I wasn’t going to say nothing but then Tim saw him in the mountain and his breathing got funny”; the bastard.

Dick had decided that meant more Brotherly Bonding Time™ was required and had filled his scheduled with activities that ranged from vegging at home to going out on the town. He mixed it up, sometimes involving Damian and Jay, though most of the activities were just between Dick and Tim.

Or were supposed to be.

“You were not in the back seat of the car. I know. I checked.”

Damian scoffed. “As though I would be so pedestrian. Now come along,” Damian motioned, “else we will be late for our dinner reservations.”

Dick jogged to keep up. “They were for two, Damian.”

“I had that changed. I also booked us a private room. Really, brother, were you planning on making Timothy eat amongst the riff raff?” It was one of the most exclusive restaurants in Gotham, with a finite number of memberships that only changed hands when someone could no longer afford the annual fee or they died with an heir who didn’t wish to keep it. Dick, as only Bruce’s ward, was barely able to get in the door depending on the day, though dropping Tim’s name had done a lot for the success of this venture.

Damian would fit right in, provided he didn’t stab someone. Hell, even if he did. Gotham’s elite were vicious.

Damian sniffed at the host. “We’re ready to be served.”

The man sniffed back snidely. “Name?”

“Are you telling me that you are so incompentant as to not recognize the scions of the Wayne family?” Damin asked scornfully. “My Father will hear about such an insult.”

The moment the word ‘Wayne’ passed through Damian’s lips, the man changed instantly, the stiff air about him morphing into a sycophant. “My apologies, young master!” The host was good. He almost sounded sincere even to Tim’s well-versed ear. “I will have a complimentary appetizer sent to your table.”

“Acceptable,” Damian took the truce begrudgingly.

A server materialized, taking the boys’ coats before escorting them to a private dining room that offered them privacy. Tim was actually grateful for Damian’s intervention, the restaurant breaking into whispers as the boys passed.

The room was heavy, red table clothes and mahogany chairs with dark leather for the seats. A low hanging brassy chandelier that matched the frames of the abstract art hanging from the wall.

It was a bit dark for Tim’s tastes, but it seemed to meet with Damian’s approval. The server pulled out Damian’s chair for him while Tim and Dick handled their own. The woman left them with the menu and then vanished out the door.

They made small talk and, as promised, a dish of escargot was delivered without being requested. As soon as the server had disappeared with their order, Damian laced his fingers, leaning forward.

“It is time to get down to the matter at hand,” he said seriously.

Dick raised an eyebrow. “This evening was just supposed to be about brotherly bonding.”

Damian sneered. “Timothy, despite all his virtue, is an idiot.”

“Hey!” Tim protested.

“If we are not explicit in our conversations with him, Timothy will not understand what we are truly saying and he will continue to insist on being solitary and self destructive,” the boy laid out as those these were all reasonable facts.

“I’m fine!”

Damina scoffed. “You are a trash raccoon.” Jay had a big fucking mouth.

Dick held up his hands. “This is not an intervention.”

“A failure on your part, Grayson.” Damian fixed his gaze on Tim, staring at him with all the weight being an Al Ghul brought. “You are too self sacrificing.”

Tim sighed. Unless the restaurant was conveniently attacked, Tim had to resign himself to this conversation. “I told you it was strategically sound.”

Damian looked positively affronted by Tim’s reply. “You failed to mention your loss of spleen and need for medication. You failed to mention that you had a wound, that it was irritated, and how you acquired it. You failed to mention the mountain’s appalling security. You failed to mention that you are having difficulty separating Todd from his counterpart.”

Tim opened his mouth to defend himself, but Damian was in full swing. “What you have done is hidden your panic attacks, worried Father by transforming into a ‘pod person’ at the gala, and you have caught the attention of my grandfather. Need I go on?”

Dick was nodding along seriously, as though he were weighing Damian’s every word. “The most aggravating part is that you are operating under the assumption that you are going to be returning to the hellhole from whence you came.”

“I told you, Damian,” Tim snapped, “I have obligations.”

“We can’t keep Tim against his will,” Dick pointed out reasonably. Thank you, Dick.

“Then we will have to change his will,” Damian fired back.

“What did you have in mind?” Dick mirrored Damian, leaning forward.

“I am sitting right here!”

Tim was ignored by both. “According to my research, we must reaffirm Timothy’s value to the family. We must foster honesty by responding with our own and set firm boundaries for Timothy to act within. As he is unwilling to approach us with his concerns, we must perform daily check ins, even if those only consist of a scale to measure how he is feeling.”

What the hell? There was no way Damian had been reading parenting books. This was spiralling out of control. Tim grasped desperately to get something to make sense. “I did not turn into a pod person.”

“Eh, you kind of did.” Dammit, Dick! “Bruce was pretty shaken by it.”

“Like he’s one to talk. We all have our personas.”

“Yes,” Dick agreed quickly, “but you went from the Tim we know and love to this completely different person. It was not concerting, man.”

Tim felt himself stiffen defensively. “A Drake must act with absolute decorum when dealing with the public.”

“Yeah, you just did it again.”

“This is yet another way that you have been tainted by that world,” Damian spat, “And I will not allow it to stand. You are a Wayne above all else and it is the world that must cater to a Wayne.”

“Tim?” Dick touched his shoulder.

It took Tim a moment to realize he was crying, though he instantly knew why. He could almost hear the snide voice, calling him Drake time after time, after he’d more than earned the right to be a Wayne. They weren’t the same. This Damian was not the one who’d tried to tear him apart, but hearing that, hearing that Tim truly was a Wayne, in that voice, healed something that had been torn deep in Tim’s chest.

“Do you see!” Damian set his hands flat on the table. “This is what I mean. Reaffirmation is crucial and allowing Timothy to express distress will allow him to heal.”

“Okay, Damian,” Dick rubbed small circles in Tim’s back, passing him a hanky. “You’re right but maybe now isn’t-”

The door shattered, as it was kicked in. A goon wearing a suit dramatically followed, gun levelled at the boys. Dick, who was already half out of chair, froze at the sight of the weapon.

“You three,” the man barked. “Into the dining room. Any trouble and I’ll shoot.”

They complied, though Damian growled. The gunman chuckled instead of pistol whipping the kid, which was one upside.

Tables were being tipped over in the dining room, creating an empty space for the hostages to kneel. There were only four more people with guns, two women and two men, plus the one behind them, though Tim didn’t know what gang, if any, that they were from. Tim had been so distracted by the Light that he hadn’t kept uptodate on the going ons of Gotham, something he now had cause to regret.

One of the men holstered his gun and pulled out a large sack. “Phones, watches, wallets, and jewelry in the bag. Any funny business and this floor won’t be so clean anymore.” One of the men beside Tim started to weep as he unclasped his watch.

The sack came around to Tim and he had absolutely nothing to put in it.

Tim didn’t have a wallet. He wasn’t supposed to have been here long enough for Bruce to set him up with a bank account. Which was also why he didn’t have a phone. He could get a hold of who he needed to through the Bat Computer or comms. Jewelry just wasn’t his thing and Selina had stolen his watch.

But Tim couldn’t just say that to a man holding a gun. “I left it in the car,” he tried with a shrug.

The goon wasn’t having it. He motioned and the man who’d escorted the boys from their dining room grabbed Tim by his hair, lifting him to his feet and pulling his head back to expose his neck. Sack man had produced one hell of a knife and was digging it into Tim’s throat, the same place Jason had cut open. “You think this is a fucking joke? That I won’t slit your fucking neck?”

“I honestly don’t have anything on me.” His eyes were watering from the pain. “You can search me but there will be nothing.”

The knife dug deeper and Tim could feel the blood trickling down his throat. It was like being in the graveyard again. "A pretty little fag like you might enjoy that but all I want is your fucking money." The knife started to slide sideways and Tim couldn't control his breathing even though each inhalation caused the knife to dig a little deeper as it drifted through his skin. "How about I just make a fucking example of you?"

Tim could feel Jason’s breath down the back of this throat and could hear the rain. And screaming. The knife at his throat vanished and Tim was being pulled down by his hair. Someone was yelling. Arabic. Did Jason even speak Arabic?

The grip fell away with the sharp crunch of bone breaking. Tim tried to spot the goons, trying to orient himself. There were three goons up with guns.

That number dropped to two as one took a knife to the collar. Beside Tim, Dick stood, a gun in his hand pointed steadily at the nearest robber, who was pointing straight back.

A shot cracked through the room. The gun woman fell as Mrs Frontonac rose to her feet, a dainty pink pistol in her hand. "Be a dear and drop the gun." The gunman did as requested, falling to his knees with his hands behind his head.

A hand wrapped itself around Tim’s throat and only a strong grip on his wrist prevented him from throwing a punch.

“Easy, Tim, easy. Damian is putting pressure on the wound. You’re going to be okay.”

He was not. Jason had slit his fucking throat again and deep enough that he couldn’t breathe. He couldn’t fight. He tried to twist his legs, but he couldn’t get the leverage to stand. He couldn’t breathe!

“Shit, he’s having a panic attack! Tim, tell me five things you can see!”

How the hell was he supposed to do that when he was literally being strangled. “Five things, Tim. Just five. Like the chandelier. You can see the chandelier.”

A chandelier was not important to the current situation.

“I am injured, Timothy, and I require you to be still as so not aggravate it.” Oh, fuck. Damian. Damian was hurt. If Tim stayed still he was going to suffocate but Damian was hurt. He could do this. His life for Damian’s wasn’t a huge decision.

“He’s still panicking!”

“But he is no longer thrashing!”

Damian was hurt and there was nothing Tim could do. He was so useless! Hot tears gathered at the corner of his eyes, irritating his skin as they dribbled down his temples.

A hand started to brush its way through his hair. “It’s okay, Tim. It’s okay. Hey, did you know Mrs Frontonac has a license to open carry? And she’s a damn good shot. She really saved my butt tonight.”

Dick was rambling. Why wasn’t Dick helping? If not Tim then at least Damian! Dick loved Damian. Why couldn’t he breathe?

“The medics are here, Tim. They’re going to take care of you, okay Tim? We’ll be right here. I promise. Come on, Damian.”

“No!” Damian cried, for once sounding his age. “No, I’m not leaving Timothy. I’m not. Let go of me, dammit,” He was slipping in and out of Arabic, “let go. My brother needs me!” There was a sob as Damian’s hands were pried off of his neck. “No!” he screeched.

They were taking Damian!

Tim tried to twist, to fight the hands that were holding him down.

“We need to sedate him!”

X-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x

Tim’s eyes fluttered but he wasn’t sure he wanted to bother to open them to the room. The room did not smell like coffee, so it probably wasn’t worth it.

“Tim? Can you open your eyes for me?” Bruce sounded worried.

Right. Something had happened at the restaurant. Tim pulled his eyes open. They were gummy and he lifted a hand to rub them clean. “Bruce,” he acknowledged.

Bruce took Tim’s free hand and started to rub his thumb along the back of Tim’s hand. “What do you remember?”

“Selina stole my watch, so I couldn’t give it to them,” Tim mumbled. “Damian said he was hurt. How bad?” Was he even alive?

“Damian’s not hurt,” Bruce soothed. “You sustained the worst injuries.”

Tim sighed. “Had another panic attack.”

“You did,” Bruce nodded. “They sedated you.”

“Sorry.”

“Don’t.” Bruce’s voice was unyielding. “Don’t apologize.” He placed his hand on the side of Tim’s face, rubbing his thumb under Tim’s eye. “I’m just glad you are okay, Tim.”

Tim studied Bruce’s face, reading deep between the lines. “But we have a problem,” he guessed, still feel drowsy.

“The doctors were concerned about the amount of scarring you have,” Bruce admitted. “Your throat has been…”

“Slit,” Tim supplied when Bruce trailed off.

The man shuddered. “Once before. And you have a lot of scarring. They demanded an explanation.”

“Car accident?” Tim muttered.

Bruce winced. Tim wasn’t going to like this. “We went with abusive step-parent. It was Jay’s idea.”

Tim scrunched his nose. “Not a victim.”

“You aren’t.” Bruce patted the top of Tim’s hand. “You are one of the strongest people I know.”

X-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x

The story of Damian literally stabbing two people armed with guns never made the papers, though Tim was certain Wayne money played no small role in that. But the media demanded a sacrifice, so Tim Wanye being loaded into an ambulance, a medic’s hand around his throat, went viral. As did mention of his fake abusive step-dad.

Bruce was suing the hospital.

After he finished, for lack of a better word, cuddling Tim. They’d laid Tim across the couch, the boy’s head in Bruce’s lap while one of his other sons took rotating turns at his feet. Tim wasn’t sure exactly what he was supposed to be doing and he just didn’t have it in him to argue, though he’d given Dick a light kick when the boy had started to play with his toes. Damian, when he wasn’t at Tim’s feet, sat on the floor near his shoulders and demandingly placed one of Tim’s hands in his hair. Tim obliged and scratched his head the way he would a cat.

Which was fine for the first day back, as his body worked through the shock and sedative, but by day two he was itching to do something. It didn’t have to be strenuous. Even if he could just go to the kitchen himself.

“It was my throat, Bruce. My feet are fine.”

“The doctor said to take it easy.”

“I’m not planning headbanging! I just want a coffee.”

“Nope.” Bruce shook his head. “You are grounded.”

Tim gave Bruce a horrified look. “You’re taking coffee from me?” No, this was not happening. He was so frustrated he could cry.

“Oh no,” Bruce put a comforting hand on Tim’s shoulder. “You are grounded from almost dying.” He maneuvered Tim into a tight hug. “I’m not going to lose you,” Bruce murmured into his ear, a promise that Bruce couldn’t keep.

Damian emerged from the shadows, holding a cup of coffee, startling both Tim and Bruce. “Father, you must be more explicit in expressing your feelings. You will tell Timothy that you love him and that you want him to stay.”

“Damian, where did you even come from?” Bruce asked a little wild-eyed, as though no one had ever used that trick against him.

Damian scoffed. “Do not try to distract from the matter at hand. You cannot haphazardly handle Timothy’s emotional state. Tell him you love him!” He demanded.

“Damian, stop,” Tim urged. He and Bruce had found a nice balance. The man seemed to have some genuine affection for Tim, which was strange considering Tim had literally been a fixer upper project that Bruce had taken an interest in. He didn’t want Damian meddling, didn’t want him to stir Bruce into realizing that the man had let a few of his walls drop. What Tim had was enough and he didn’t want to lose that. “Please, just stop.”

Bruce gave Tim a considering look and Tim could feel his heart sink. He braced himself for Bruce to take a step, to retreat into Batman.

“I love you, Tim.”

“What?” Tim whispered, not believing what he’d heard.

“I love you, and you will always have a place here.” Bruce wrapped his arms around Tim again. “You are so smart and so strong, and even though you are causing me to go grey early, I respect you and I love you.”

Tim almost believed him.

Chapter Text

Bart had supplied Tim with pictures that were perfect for the occasion, which was disturbing in itself. Tim couldn’t help but hate Future Tim for whatever tasks he’d used Bart for. Tim had to set those feelings aside, had to set everything aside, as he transferred the photos onto Luthor’s computers. The man had upgraded his security, which was adorable, and Campbell had next to nothing. When he finished he sent an emailed tip to both the Metropolis CPD and Lois Lane, cc-ing them. Lois would ensure the police acted and the police would ensure that Lois didn’t compromise the evidence.

Jade had reported that Queen Bee had given up sleeping in favor of running, which Tim counted as a complete success. He’d had an idea on how to deal with Klarion, but he wasn’t certain it was a good idea, but it was arguably better than nothing.

Tim was down in the Batcave, working on the security upgrades for the Justice League. He was definitely way behind on the timeline he’d set, but he forgave himself as he hadn’t set it with the knowledge he’d be saving the world.

“Timothy,” Damian barked from behind him. Bruce had refused to even discuss the Robin mantel with the boy, but he had been teaching Damian some of his tricks. Like appearing from nowhere. Tim didn’t jump only because he’d beaten that instinct out of himself.

“Damian,” he acknowledged.

“I require your presence in the kitchen. There will be coffee for you.” That was an obvious bribe, but one Tim was willing to accept.

“Is there something you can’t reach on the on shelf?” he teased. Damian didn’t deign to respond, which made Tim a little concerned. While serious was Damian’s default, it also didn’t take much to get a rise out of him.

Tim walked into the kitchen, confused to see Bruce, Jay, and Dick all sitting around the table wearing similar looks of bafflement. As promised, Damian poured Tim a cup of coffee, setting it where he obviously wanted Tim to sit and Damian went to stand at the head of the table. He glared until Tim took his place, who wrapped his hands around the hot coffee. He shot a look at Dick who just shrugged in response.

“I have called this family meeting as I feel there has been an oversight in our family bonding.” Damian crossed his arms behind his back and leaned forward, conveying his seriousness. “The first order of business is appellations or, the common vernacular, nicknames.” He wrinkled his nose as though the term was beneath him. Nevertheless, he continued. “It is an American custom to call close relations by either abbreviations of their true name or by names that relate to sentimental memories.”

“We agreed no nicknames,” Dick shot a look at Tim, as though he’d had something to do with this.

“I do not wish to provide Timothy a nickname, as we have already discovered that he is averse to them. I am, however, requesting one for myself.”

“You,” Jay said, disbelief coloring his voice. Tim could sympathize. “Want a nickname?”

“Indeed,” Damian said stiffly. “As Grayson has deplorable taste, I have chosen for myself. You will now address me as “Dami” to demonstrate your affection for me.”

Tim could tell that Bruce was using every skill in his repertoire to not burst into laughter. “Alright, Dami. We can do that.”

Tim didn’t find it funny at all. All Tim could do was wonder if deep down the other Damian truly felt that way, if all he really did want was to be loved. If the pride and the murder really was just a front. Tim couldn’t sympathize with the boy, but he could muster up a bit of pity.

He mustered up a strained smile. “I like it.”

Damian smiled back brightly. “Excellent. I wish to celebrate this occasion with pizza and movies. I shall pick as this event is to commemorate me.”

Bruce gave a friendly grin, pleased with the turn of events. “Absolutely, we can-”

There was a shrill spike in the air and everyone covered their ears. It started as quickly as it stopped and had Bruce staring at his wrist. He bolted, the boys close behind, to the nearest room with a television. He flicked it on to the nearest television.

“-computers from both Lex Corp and Luthor’s personal residence. While Luthor is claiming that this is an obvious attempt at corporate espionage, the Daily Planet’s very own received an anonymous tip that the reason for the raid may possibly relate to child pornography, as earlier today Jacob Campbell, a close business associate of Luthor, was arrested on charges. This is Olivia Chen, bring you the story of the hour.”

“Holy crap.” Dick sounded stunned. “No way they’ll get those charges to stick.”

Oh yes they will~ internal Tim sang. It was far too late for Luthor to delete anything.

Bruce looked grim. “Dick, in any of your dealings with him did he ever-”

“No!” Dick lifted his hands and waved them. “He was creepy, but he always kept his hands to himself.” He ran a hand down the back of his neck. “I’ll ask everyone else, but we were so close that I don’t think anyone would have been able to hide that kind of trauma.”

“What about Conner?” Bruce asked.

Whoops. Sorry Conner.

Jay made a face. “That’s fucking gross, though it would explain why he doesn’t age. Might be a feature instead of a bug.”

Tim could pinpoint the moment where Bruce turned into Batman. “Nightwing, check with the team. Solitary interviews and make them all aware that everyone will be speaking with Dinah as a precaution, so if they do wish to speak about such a trauma their privacy will be maintained.

“Jay, Tim, and Dami: you will be staying in the mountain until further notice. This will require a League response. I will be available by comm. Do not hesitate to use it, no matter what the circumstances.”

Bruce spun, and Tim could almost see the edges of the costume around him like a phantom. It would only be a few minutes before the man was in the real thing.

Well, found guilty or not Luthor was going to be hella distracted.

X-x-x-x-x-x-x-x

Conner glared with enough intensity that Tim knew that, if Kon had been that angry, he would have fried everything within a fifty-foot radius. “I just had to spend twenty minutes explaining to Nightwing that Luthor never sexually assaulted me and he doesn’t believe me.”

“I had to stalk four year olds,” Bart countered. “I feel dirty.”

They both looked at Tim, judging him for the only one to escape his plan unscathed. He gave them a grim look. “I had to sort through Campbell’s personal files.”

Conner shuddered while Bart shrugged. “Okay, you win.”

“Well,” Jay drawled out, “as cheery as this has been, we need to get to the fucking point because we don’t have long before Little D checks to make sure Tim’s arm hasn’t fallen off.” That… probably wasn’t an exaggeration.

Tim nodded. To the point. “Klarion. Black Manta. Sports Master. I think we only need to take out two of the three and I have an idea about Klarion.” Tim braced himself for the reaction of the room. “I think we should just ask.”

Jay burst out laughing while Conner rolled his eyes. Bart leaned against the wall, eyes narrowed. “You’re serious.”

“No fucking way you are,” Jay waved a hand. He gave Tim another look. “Holy shit. You are fucking serious. I thought we had beaten the suicidal tendencies out of you.” Dammit Jay, that was a secret.

“Hold up,” Tim raised his hands. “Klarion’s a Lord of Chaos. That’s his thing. Bart’s future, as much as it sucks, sound like it’s a pretty orderly place.”

“In a murdery kinda way,” Bart agreed.

“Right, so why would Klarion want any part of that? We level with him so he can go back to causing his usual problems.”

“That’s so stupid,” Conner said, “It might work. Not my fault if you end up dead, though.”

“We can’t just call Klarion up,” Jay pointed out. “Dude isn’t exactly in the phone book.”

Tim grinned. “He’s magic. We can summon him at a crossroad. Easy peasy.”

“So then who? Sports Master or Black Manta?” Bart stroked his chin, considering.

“Black Manta,” said Conner with certainty.

Tim tilted his head. “You have an idea?”

“We go through Kaldur.” Conner laid out the plan. “All our intel says that Manta keeps Kaldur close, that the guy is taking the whole father thing pretty serious. We take Kaldur off the map, Manta has to drop out to look for him.”

Tim considered it. They’d need to lay a trap, get Kaldur alone. It couldn’t be personal, but Tim wouldn’t mind getting a hit in. Still… “Where would we keep him? Can’t be here. Can’t be watchtower. Can’t be the Batcave.”

Jay snapped his fingers. “The Falcone’s had a restaurant that was a front. They’ve got cells in the basement.”

Tim laughed, getting a strange look from everyone, including Bart. He waved a hand, trying to get everyone to relax. “It’s okay. I’m just familiar with the place.”

X-x-x-x-x-x

Tim and Conner chose to go to the crossroads, while Jay and Bart dug up the intel they needed on Black Manta and Kaldur. Bart had disappeared for only minutes to grab what Tim would need for the ceremony, and it had been easy to get him and Conner out of the mountain under the pretense of taking Wolf for a walk.

Tim had managed to catch Dick while he was getting ready for his interview with Zatanna and wasn't that weird? She was supposed to be Other Bruce's age. Apparently here she'd grown up in Mount Justice after her father had been possessed. She and Dick had at one point dated, which meant that Dick was half distracted when Tim approached him.

“Maybe, if Conner has something he wants to get off his chest, he’ll tell me,” Tim had offered. “I’ve been spending a lot of time with him.”

“Okay,” Dick had accepted easily. “But take your comms and for god’s sake Tim, try not to get into any trouble!”

“Me? Trouble?” Tim laughed as he waved, jogging down the hall to meet with the clone.

The nearest cross road where they wouldn’t be seen wasn’t exactly close so the boys walked in silence. It was Conner who broke it. “Are you like me?” he asked gruffly, hiding his vulnerability.

“Hm?” Tim tilted his head as he walked along the road. “How do you mean?”

Conner let out a sharp snort. “Not a clone then.”

“There’s nothing wrong with being a clone, Conner. My best friend was a clone.” The alien turned his head in disbelief. “He was a great person, courageous, if not a bit arrogant. Funny and compassionate. He felt larger than life.”

“You said was,” Conner pointed out hesitantly.

“He died.” There was still grief there. It still hurt. But it no longer this rotting thing where his heart should be. "Not of clone related reasons," Tim assured at Conner's alarm. "He was a hero and made the ultimate sacrifice."

Conner fell silent for a few minutes. "I don't understand. Why haven't I heard of him? Why didn't we hear of you?" He gave Tim a considering look. "What are you?"

Tim struggled with himself. Tim knew he had secrets. His secrets had secrets. But he was literally leading Conner off to meet an ageless being that could pretty much kill either of them with little effort. Tim didn’t even have his Red Robin costume, as he had still been deemed ‘too thin.’ “I’m from an alternate universe,” he admitted. “It’s part of why I was pissed off the first time we met. Batman didn’t exactly use his words to invite me.”

Conner took the information instride. “So your clone friend, was that me?”

“Yeah,” Tim nodded.

“So I’m just a replacement for him,” Conner kicked a rock. It skittered for miles down the road. “Of course I am.”

Tim snorted. “You really aren’t. Kon was super outgoing, always the life of the party-”

“So a better version,” Conner muttered, bitterness dripping from his words. His hands were stuffed into his pockets and his shoulders were up by his ears.

“-and he was arrogant, brash,” Tim plowed on. “He didn’t think things through. Being introverted isn’t a character flaw, Conner. You are far wiser than Kon ever was. You are wildly different people, and I’m lucky to have met both of you.”

“Oh.” Conner let his hands fall free. They walked in silence for a few more minutes. “Why’d Batman bring you back?”

“He thinks I’m reckless with my health.”

Conner stopped, staring at the stitches in Tim’s neck. “You don’t say.”

“These,” Tim pointed at the line of stitches, “were not my fault.” He turned, picking up the pace. He was not reckless.

“The fact that we are off to summon a chaos demon doesn’t really convince me.”

Tim huffed. “Klarion isn’t technically a demon.”

“Oh yeah, cause that’s going to make a huge difference in this.” Point to Conner.

“Oh, hey,” Tim pointed to a pile of plants. “I think this is it.” He walked over to the mound, pulling his way through it until he found a can of spray paint. “Definitely it.”

It took him an hour to paint the summoning circle from memory. Batman had made him memorize dozens of them so he’d be prepared for dealing with cultists. Tim was certain the man had never intended the knowledge to be used that way. As he finished he had Conner build a circle out of the plants.

“Okay.”

Conner looked at the circle dubiously. “Are you sure this will work?”

Tim smiled stiffly, as though he wasn’t about to die. “Sure.” He pulled out a knife, nicking the tip of his finger and flicking the blood into the circle. “Klarion, I call upon thee!” Not the most eloquent of chants, but hopefully it would do the job.

Judging by the sudden light show, it was definitely working.

A red scar tore through the air in the centre of the circle. Klarion stepped out and didn’t immediately smite them, which was good. Instead he pet Teekl and walked around the circle, inspecting it with disdain. Tim kept silent, waiting for the witchboy to speak first. He wasn’t super familiar with Chaos Lord etiquette but he did know that speaking first was rude.

Klarion’s long silence was a test, one Tim intended to pass.

After he’d finished inspecting the circle, Klarion smirked. “Do you really think that St John’s Wort is enough to hold me back?”

“I don’t think there’s a force on Earth that could hold you back, but I didn’t want to insult you by having nothing,” Tim admitted. Maybe the Justice League, but technically they were in space.

Klarion tilted his head. “Huh. You’re not completely stupid.” He gave Teekl a long stroke. “Why’d you bring me here? You seem to get that I could kill you like that.” Klarion snapped his fingers and a flair of magic split the earth, close enough that pebbles peppered Tim. Definitely on the outside of the circle. Wolf growled and Conner put a steadying hand on the beast. The plan was for, if this went bad, for Conner to grab Tim and bolt.

It wasn’t Tim’s best.

“I’m aware.” Tim said calmly, “I’m just hoping you’ll listen to me first.”

“Mm. You’re kinda fun.” Klarion gave Tim a considering look. “Alright. I’ll listen until you make me bored.”

That’s one hurdle. “I know what the Light’s planning.”

“Do you now?” Klarion’s face curled into something that was entirely inhuman.

It was definitely creepy, but so were a lot of things. Tim kept his voice steady. “The collars and the virus will be a success. You’ll take out the Justice League and gain control of the world.”

“Oh,” Klarion purred. “You’re the one trying to take the Light apart. You’ve been very clever, very busy. You’re here to stop me now? You think you can take me?” He stepped forward threateningly. Conner sidled a bit closer to Tim.

“I think you’d kick my ass hard,” Tim admitted nonchalantly. He knew when he was outmatched. “I’m here to get you to ask yourself if this is what you really want.”

“What I want?” Klarion barked a laugh, his face morphing back to something near human. “The destruction of the Justice League is a dream come turtle. Those meddling do-gooders are always spoiling my fun,” he pouted. “The Light lets me play.”

Tim nodded. “For now. But their ultimate goal is a new world order. A place for everything and everything in its place. Where does chaos fit there?” Klarion narrowed his eyes. “So the virus succeeds. You get a few years of pure chaos as people panic, as people die. But then the collars kick in, and the Light has a mindless army of dolls. There’s no one to oppose you, no one to stop you. Dolls don’t respond with fear. They just stand there and die.

“But right now,” Tim reasoned, “you have a world of people who are ripe and ready for mayhem with only a little prompting. Yeah, the League interferes, but isn’t that half the fun? Watching them scramble around like ants as they try to figure out your plan?”

“Oh, you are clever.” Klarion scratched behind Teekl’s ears. The familiar leaned into the touch. “I really should kill you.” Tim tried to keep from bracing, to keep his muscles loose so he could run.

“But,” oh thank god, “you have a point. The Light is a bunch of stuffy old men who all want to be king. It’s going to be funny to watch you snatch the crown. Once you’ve done that,” Klarian’s face twisted back into demonic, “then I’ll kill you.” He gave a laugh and Tim couldn’t hide his shudder. “See you later, armadillo!” With a wave of his arm, Klarion stepped through a tear in reality, leaving Tim alone with Wolf and Conner.

All three of them stood in stunned silence for several minutes.

“I can’t believe that worked,” Conner whispered as though speaking too loudly would bring Klarion back.

Tim chuckled and it slowly picked up steam, growing into a full blown laugh. He wrapped his hands around his sides, chest heaving as he fell to his knees. Tears burned the corner of his eyes and his chest heaved from not getting enough air.

Conner took a hesitant step forward. “Tim?”

“Ah,” Tim wiped his eye with a finger. “Sorry, it’s just,” he laughed again. “I can summon a being of pure chaos and get away without a scratch, but if I go to dinner someone tries to slit my throat. How is this even my life?”

“Reckless with your health is an understatement,” Conner grumbled.

X-x-x-x-x-x-x

Tim spotted Dami standing, arms crossed behind his back, by the doors of the Mount Justice. His face was flushed with anger and Tim felt a twinge of guilt for how close he had probably just come to death. “Where have you been!” the boy demanded.

“We just went for a walk,” in the same way that losing a limb was just one cut.

Dami glared at Conner. “Timothy is mine and you will not interfere with that, clone,” he spat.

“Little D,” Tim scolded, but judging by the fury on Dami’s face, the reprimand would not be heeded. As one of the few people Dami couldn’t successfully stab, Conner just rolled his eyes. Dami’s temper was a lost cause, but at least it couldn’t escalate. “Come on, Little D. Let’s get inside.”

“As we should. There is a chill in the air and you did not have to forethough to bring a jacket. Why Nightwing thought it was wise to let you wander alone is beyond me. We are lucky you were not eaten by a coyote,” Dami grumbled a little too sincerely.

“I was with both Superboy and Wolf. And coyotes don’t eat people.”

“You seem to be an exception to many rules. It is best not to chance it.” Dami quickly snagged Tim’s hand. When Tim shot him a questioning look, Dami responded with a haughty one of this own. “This is the best way to ensure that you do not wander off again.”

“Okay,” Tim sighed. “I’m sorry. Why don’t I make it up to you by playing a game or something? The team has a lot of cool toys.” Conner raised an eyebrow and shuffled off, as though he was waiting for Tim’s permission to go. Tim nodded and Conner took off down another hallway, Wolf at his heels.

Dami sniffed. “Toys are for children. We shall spar. You will need practice for when grandfather attacks.” Dami pulled him down the hall and Tim offered no resistance. There wasn’t much point. Suddenly they stopped, Dami dropping Tim’s hand. “You will also need this.” He shoved a cylinder into Tim’s chest.

It looked like a collapsible bo staff, and when he hit the button in the center, it sprang open. It was a little longer than Tim’s original and a little heavier. Serviceable, but the minor differences would take time to get used to. Tim appreciated the effort enough to try. “Thanks, Little D.”

Dami shook his head. “You haven’t realized it’s best feature.” He twisted the staff in Tim’s hand, rolling it until he found a tiny depression. With a nod from Dami, Tim pressed it. The staff began to hum and hiss.

“Is it electrified?!”

Dami nodded smugly. “Father and I designed it. I am disappointed at the output level, but it is Father’s wish that you do not slay your enemies, though I am sure he would make an exception for grandfather.”

That was actually very sweet. No one had made Tim a weapon in a very long time. He offered a smile, something sincere, to Damian. “Thanks Little D. I love it.”

X-x-x-x-x-x

Tim had stolen back his Red Robin costume. Considering what they were planning, having it was absolutely necessary. Jay and Bart had come through with some solid intel on Black Manta. There hadn’t been much on the mountain mainframe, but Jay had snooped through Dick’s personal computer. Dick must have had a bone to pick with the Kaldur because his it was brimming with information on his movements and his equipment.

Kadlur, it seemed, was supervising shipments. Possibly weapons, but Jay hadn’t confirmed and Tim didn’t like their chances of getting into Dick’s computer twice. The pertinent fact was that the next shipment was due in now, everybody was in place. Nightwing thought they were camping in an attempt to find some balance of normalacy in light of the Luthor news.

Jay was running comms and being the eye in the sky, using the Bat computer to access satellite feeds. Sphere hidden and ready to transform at a moment’s notice. Bart was by the fence, waiting for his cue, Superboy was hidden in a nearby ship and Red Robin?

Red Robin was already in the warehouse.

“I got eyes on our boy,” came through on the comm. “He’s got a meta with him. Icicle Jr.”

“Got that, Impulse?” Tim whispered.

“Yeah, I gotcha. Speed and ice are so not crash.”

“I can handle Jr.” Conner offered. “We were together in Belle Reve.”

Okay, there had to be a better explanation than Conner doing time. Mission? Worry about that later.

“Heads up, Red. They’re approaching the warehouse now.”

The doors were on a chain rack and opened with a rattle that echoed between the crates. It muffled the sound of Kaldur’s footprints, but that was fine. Tim had a visual. Kaldur in, Icicle Jr out. Perfect. The discs were already flying through the air when he whispered “go,” into his comm.

The discs hit the chain and exploded, dropping the door with a crash. The lights went out as Bart hit the breaker and Kaldur ducked behind a crate. There was little light in the warehouse, just the moonlight that which trickled in from a row of high windows. This could have been a very difficult game of cat and mouse, but Tim’s mask had infrared. Finding Kaldur was never going to be the problem.

So Tim slipped as quietly as he could along the rafters, his cape making the barest rasping sounding as it brushed against the metal beams.

“You are very clever, but cowardly,” called Kaldur. “Do you intend to fight me so dishonorably?”

Bait. Get the enemy to talk so you know their position. And with his fancy magic, a location is all Kaldur would need. Tim was not in the mood to get electrocuted again. Also, pot, kettle. Kadlur had cut the power and ambushed Tim, so turnabout's fair play.

“Superboy, you’ve got a crowd of guys coming on your left.”

“Got it.”

Tim watched as Kaldur rolled to another crate. He was slowly trying to make his way to the door, to get out to the dock where he could set the terms of the fight.

Tim dropped to the floor. The sounds was enough to make Kaldur freeze. “You have talent. If this is about money, Black Manta would likely be willing to hire someone of your caliber.”

Did he think Tim was Deathstroke? Rude. Tim had much better vision.

“Impulse, you are supposed to punch the bad guys, not run away!”

“Haveaplan. Berightback.”

Tim was also much sneakier. He stood, bo staff ready, just as Kaldur rounded the corner. Tim swung low, catching the Atlantian in the chest. He staggered from the blow, but the armor was too sturdy for Tim to fracture a rib. He recovered almost immediately, dodging Tim’s next strike.

In a smooth motion, Kaldur’s water bearers burst to life with twin swords, and Tim could see why he hadn’t drawn them straight away. The water glowed softly, casting light and shadow across the room. The Atlantian took in Tim’s costume with a frown. “I do not believe we are acquainted.”

Tim responded with a strike.

“Okay. I’ll admit. Solid plan. That was super cool.”

They danced around each other, striking and dodging in equal measure. Kaldur’s weapons could do everything Tim feared they could and he the man fought like someone well seasoned. Tim had several blows land a little too close, left an opening a little too wide.

Kalder lunged in, blade skimming off of Tim’s chest armor just as Tim slammed his bo staff into Kaldur’s collar. He flicked the button and the Atlantean screamed, then dropped.

Thank you, Dami.

“Got him,” Tim radioed. “Status?”

Jay blew out a breath and Tim winced at the noise. “We’re all good. Everyone is good.”

“Perfect.” Tim grabbed Kaldur by the arms and started dragging him towards the door. “Robin? There should be a file in the Condiment Man folder called Pinky.”

“Yeah, I found it.”

“Open it up. Password is “the other’s insane,” one word, no apostrophe, all small caps. Click execute.”

There was a brief silence. “Yeah, that’s done. What did it do?”

Tim gave a vicious little grin in the dark. “Transferred one billion of Vandal Savage’s money to the Brain.”

Superboy opened the warehouse door like a normal person, a balaclava over his face no Superman logo. Impulse’s suit was set to stealth mode, though he’d also donned a face mask. Tim gave them both a smile. “Let’s take out the trash.”

Chapter Text

It was weird, being back in the room where this entire mess had started. There was no computer, no minifridge, no mattress, but there was the drain, and an eye hook that they were utilizing. Chains hung from it and were connected to cuffs on Kaldur’s wrist, which were then connected to a chair. They’d seated him, as hanging someone from a ceiling definitely fell into villain territory and Tim was pretty sure they were currently on the lighter side of grey.

This wasn’t kidnapping so much as capturing, right? Kaldur was no kid. And he was a villain. It was fine.

Or it would be fine if they hadn’t overlooked one crucial detail. “Who’s going to stay to watch him?”

Tim sighed. “I can’t.” Conner and Bart both turned to him with raised eyebrows. “Oh come on,” he rolled his eyes. “Little D will find me here and then stab Kaldur for spending too much time with me.”

“That’s true.” Bart agreed. “He would have been really useful in the future.”

“Focus,” Conner snapped. “Impulse and I both live in the Mountain. Us suddenly disappearing isn’t going to not be investigated. It won’t take Nightwing long to figure this out.”

“We don’t need long, and we were planning on turning him over to the team eventually,” Tim reasoned. “We just need him off the grid for a few days so the traitor can’t report his position to Black Manta.”

“And then they find us here and we do what? Explain? We still haven’t found the traitor!”

“But we’ve stopped the Light! So the traitor becomes less of a big deal. I mean sure, there will probably be a revenge plot, but if killing us requires exposing their identity they won’t do it because then they won’t get their big revenge, and that’s what this is. It’s against the entire League, not one or two members. We just need to keep Black Manta occupied.” Tim could feel the rush, the sense of victory creeping in, but now was not the time to get sloppy. Celebrating too early would lead to disaster. “As soon as Savage has tracked the money trail, we’ll be good. We’re so close.”

“What have you done?”

Oh, and look at that. Kaldur was awake sooner rather than later. Yay.

Tim waved a dismissive hand. “Monologuing was a villain thing.” He wasn’t stupid enough to explain the plan. That would defeat the entire purpose of the plan.

Kaldur tilted his head to the side. “You are Tim.”

Tim narrowed his eyes, his brain whirring. Something was going on here.

“Shut up, traitor,” snarled Superboy.

“Superboy,” Kaldur tipped his head in acknowledgement. “And Impulse, I believe?” He looked around the room, taking in the concrete walls. “This is not a League facility.” He looked at the floor drain and then up at the eye hook. “I do believe this room was intended for torture.”

Tim slammed a hand to his forehead. “Fuck.” He repeated the motion. “Fuck fuck fuck. God fucking dammit.”

“Awe no,” Bart tensed and looked at Tim anxiously. “How bad are we screwed?” That question was echoed in Conner’s face.

Tim pointed at Kaldur. “You’re a goddamn mole.”

“What?!” roared Conner.

Tim pinched the bridge of his nose. “Nightwing’s no idiot.” And he’d lied, while Tim had been editing his pictures. “He would have known that the Light was getting intel from someone. Black Manta was auditioning for them and Kaldur was the perfect plant. He had enough reason to be angry and had a direct tie to the villain. Slide him in and figure out who the actual traitor is.” Tim threw his head back. “Uuuuuuuugh. This is going to be such a mess,” he said despairingly. “Nightwing is going to kill me and give Batman my remains to eat.”

“That is an impressive theory,” Kaldur said calmly. Zen seemed to be the guy’s natural state. “But I assure you that my only loyalty is to my father.”

“Damn,” Tim positively whined. “I’m going to have to call Nightwing and explain that we aren’t camping.”

“I am no spy.”

Bart shrugged. “If Tim says you’re a spy I’m just gonna roll with it. Dude knows stuff.” Kaldur raised a skeptical eyebrow.

“No,” Conner growled, catching Tim’s wrist. “Explain.”

Tim broke free of the grip. “He knew my name.”

“A lot of people know your name.” Bart winced behind Conner.

“And a lot of people don’t,” Tim countered. “Ra’s didn’t know my name. Damian never spoke it when Kaldur invaded the base. I never gave it to Klarion and I haven’t been anywhere close to any of the other members of the Light.

“But Nightwing was getting intel. He told Batman that he knew I’d been handed over to Ra’s when I could have just as easily have been handed over to the Brain or Luthor to play with, or I could have been executed for being an annoyance. He had a source. An inside man.

“Someone he trusted.” Tim shot a meaningful glance towards Kaldur.

“I find it just easier to trust him than to have to listen to his explanations,” Bart offered. “He always makes me feel a bit dumb.”

Kaldur sighed. “As they say in the surface world, the jig is up. Though I am curious as to why you sought to capture me. You seem above personal revenge.”

Tim heaved a breath. “I’m not explaining this a million times. Someone unchain him. I’m going to go call Nightwing.”

He climbed through the trapdoor into the restaurant and flicked on his comm.

“Nightwing,” came the instant reply.

“Hey Nightwing,” aim for cheery. People liked cheery.

“Oh, hey Tim? How’s the camping trip? You guys run into any trouble? Like Bart eating all the snacks?” Tim laughed along with Nightwing’s little joke.

“Yeah,” he clucked his tongue, “about that…”

“Tim…. what did you do?” It was Dick’s ‘I’m not going to sound pissed because I need you to confide in me but I am definitely concerned’ voice.

“Not camping?” Tim’s voice went a little higher.

Dick sighed. “Who’s drunk?”

“No one?” It spiked another octave.

“Tim, I need you to tell me what’s going on. Do I need to call Batman?”

“Nope. No no no. Don’t do that. But you should come to Gotham. Alone. And meet me here.” Tim rattled off an address.

“Tim, you need to explain-”

“Not over comms. Please, just… just come.” And he would. This Dick would. And then he was going to absolutely murder Tim.

Tim sat on a rotting chair in the back room, running through ways this scenario was going to go. A) Nightwing was going to be cool with everything. B) Nightwing was going to call Batman and Tim was going to be forever banished from the Manor. C) well, honestly there was no c. This was either going to go really well or really badly and the really well part was probably Tim’s imagination.

So he waited and tapped his heel, running through his arguments and making them stronger by poking holes in them. When the swish of a grapple sounded, Tim could have used a few more hours of thinking.

But he didn’t have a few more hours, so he stepped out to meet his fate. Nightwing was picking his way through the tipped tables and shattered chairs. “Well, this place is certainly a fine dining experience for the whole family. Why are we meeting-” Nitghwing cut himself off. “Why are you in your costume?” Instant anger, just add water.

Tim motioned for Dick to follow. “It’s a long story and I don’t want to have to tell it twice.”

Dick was practically vibrating -with Rage? Probably with rage- as he followed Tim down the trap door. Tim led them to the final room, where Bart was twiddling his thumbs, Conner was leaned against the wall, and Kaldur was rubbing his wrists.

“Kaldur?” Dick asked, clearly taken off guard. “What?” It took him far too long to drawn his escrima sticks.

Tim sighed and placed his hand on one of the sticks. “We know.”

Nightwing sheathed his sticks and covered from his nose to his chin with both hands, breathing heavily. Once he’d regained some semblance of calm, he spoke. “Why is he here?”

Kaldur tilted his head. “I, too, am curious.”

Tim scuffed the ground with his toe. Bart and Conner both looked at him, as though he could be the one to talk their way out of this. Which was fair, he supposed, given his interactions with Ra’s and Klarion, but it would have been nice for them to show a little hesitation.

Tim sighed. “Barts from a future where the Light won. Virus that implanted meta genes that were unstable and uncontrollable. The fallout was so bad that the only way to win in the scenario was to prevent it from happening. So Future Me sent Bart back to team up with Current Me to prevent the whole thing.

“Finding and killing the research was going to be impossible, so we focused on dismantling the Light. The last three pieces are Savage, Brain, and Black Manta. Sports Master isn’t the best team player, so we figure he’ll fuck off and do his own thing once it all goes down.

“We need Manta distracted for a few days while Savage and the Brain take each other out. We figured that grabbing Kaldur would be a pretty big distraction, but it turns out that Kaldur was your spy so, oops?”

Nightwing opened his mouth but Tim headed off the question. “There is a spy in the League who definitely would have killed Bart and probably me if any of this got out, so we kept it on the down low.”

Nightwing made a pained sound. “So who all knows? Just the people in this room?”

“And Jay,” Tim winced. “I never put him in danger! I promise I kept your brother safe. I’m sorry and if you don’t want to ever see me again I totally understand.”

Dick rubbed and his brow. “Little D was right. I can’t believe that I am taking life advice from an eight year old,” he muttered. “Be explicit.”

Tim braced himself for the worst as Dick placed both hands on Tim’s shoulders. “You are my brother and I am upset because you were in danger and you never told me, so I couldn’t help. I love you very much and it would break my heart if anything ever happened to you. Dammit, Tim, you are a part of my family and families share burdens. How long have you been dealing with this for?”

“Since you introduced me to the team,” Tim murmured.

Dick let out another breath. “Okay, I understand why you didn’t come to me right away. I am still upset, but I understand.”

He looked at Conner and Bart. “I’m also upset with the two of you. Bart has an excuse, but Conner, I expected you to trust me.” Conner looked at Dick, then at Kaldur, then back at Dick. Dick winced. “Okay, point.” He let go of Tim’s shoulders and rubbed a hand down his face. “Okay, we need to tell Batman, and you need to tell me exactly what you’ve done to the Light.”

X-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x

So as not to have Tim go over the story several times, they waited for Batman. They had him meet them at the restaurant as they couldn’t bring Kaldur to Mount Justice and the Batcave was for Bats. Tim radioed Jay to let him know that they were so very busted so he’d have time to write an epic speech on how he should get a pass because he’d died. They waited in a tense silence in what used to be the seating areas, the cells making Dick uncomfortable. The silence was what was getting to Tim, but he didn’t know how to fill it. He’d never been the quippiest of the Robins.

Batman was there surprisingly fast considering that Dick hadn’t said emergency, but maybe he’d been able to read the stress in Dick’s voice. He’d arrived at the restaurant in silence, the same silence that he’d used to sneak up on Tim. Wasn’t this nostalgic?

He looked at the room, not even batting an eye at Kaldur’s presence. “Report.”

So Tim did. He explained everything in full, assuring a concerned Dick that no, he was not purposely captured by Ra’s to kick start all this, that had just been where he had got the idea on how to handle the problem. He mostly told the truth, including the bit about Campbell drugging Damian at the party. Bruce’s gloves had creaked and Tim had paused so if the man hit him it would not be mid-speech.

Bruce did not hit him.

He tried to entirely skip over Klarion, but fucking Kaldur had directly asked about that. When he tried to skimp on details, he and Dick had verbally fenced until Conner, the traitor, broke down and told them everything. He finished with the setup for the Brain vs Savage duke out and how they just needed Black Manta distracted enough that there would be no Light for him to come back to.

Tim licked his lips, throat sore from all the talking. Batman wasn’t moving. “If you need me to go away I can,” Tim offered, though he wasn’t sure himself what he meant by away. The comment was enough to make Batman move, and Tim folded his arms over his face as the man rushed him.

Instead of hitting him, Bruce wrapped his arms around Tim. “You are grounded. From everything forever.” He adjusted his grip, bringing Tim’s arms down to his side. “I’m sorry I didn’t find you sooner, Tim.”

“Holyshitbatmanhugspeople?”

“How mad are you right now?” Tim whispered, trying to get a read on the situation.

“Very,” Tim winced, “We are doubling the number of appointments you have with Dinah.”

X-x-x-x-x-x-x-

In the end they stashed Kaldur in the Batcave while they waited out the last stage of Tim’s plan. There was a backdoor in the money transfer, allowing Tim, and now Batman, to watch as Vandal painstakingly followed the trail back to the Brain’s location. Superman was dispatched and arrived in time to prevent the Brain from becoming the Smear.

Once that was handled, Kaldur returned to Mount Justice. Tim didn’t get to go, as apparently this time being grounded really did mean something. He was confined to the Manor and the Batcave somewhere between when he got his stitches out and when Bruce’s hair stopped graying.

Which wasn’t actually a bad thing. Now that the literal weight of the world wasn’t hanging off of Tim’s shoulders he could get back to his side projects. He was left in relative peace as Dami wasn’t speaking to him, which actually made Tim feel a bit anxious. He wanted to apologize, but wasn’t quite sure for what or how to go about it. Dick was spending all his time at Mount Justice and Jay had buried himself in classical literature. Literally. Tim had walked by his room and there had been a fort made out of books. Jay’d been tense around Tim, his frustration at having to keep secrets bubbling to the top now that there were no secrets to keep.

So Tim alternated between designing a program to run Conner’s DNA sequencing, and finally finishing his Justice League security patch. Bruce would occasionally swing by, stare over Tim’s shoulder, then leave without saying anything. Tim had taken to having dinner in his room again. He’d gone back to soup.

It was like Tam all over again. He knew that he had broken something beyond repair, but he’d been right about it. For the Mission it was the right motive, the right actions, and the right results. But actions have personal consequences, and if the consequences were Tim losing the people who had invested so energy and emotion into him, well, he’d have to bear it.

He cut the stitches from his own neck when they were healed. Actually healed. He needed to keep the scarring down to something he could cover with makeup and knew that tempting fate wasn’t something that would be handled well. Not that anyone commented on the change. There really wasn’t anyone around to see it.

It was with trepidation that Tim finished his patch, knowing that he’d have to comm Bruce. Or… he could not comm Bruce? He could call up Watchtower and just speak to whoever was on Monitor duty. Avoid all the awkwardness.

Plan in mind, he put on his suit. Bruce and Dick were pissed over it, though they’d given up and let Tim have free access to it. The cowl made him feel more in control, so it was with some confidence that he connected with Watchtower.

“Watchtower.”

“Hello Zatanna. This is Red Robin, I have the requested security updates ready for installation.”

Zatanna gave a grin. “That’s great. I heard we were getting some, but that was supposed to have been a few weeks ago.”

“I’ve been busy,” hedged Tim. That was the mildest way of putting it that he could. “It set back my timetable.”

Zatanna laughed. “Yeah, that’s happened to all of us. So what do you need from us to get it done?”

“To do this remotely I’m going to need to do a full shutdown and reboot on Watchtower. It won’t take a long time, but we can’t risk having anyone on the station if something goes wrong.”

“Yeah, the League would have to pick a time. It could be weeks before a decision is even made.” Slow spin the wheels of bureaucracy. “If you had direct access, could you do it in chunks? Shut down a portion here and then reboot it without causing too much interruption?”

“I could.” It would end up being faster than a remote upload as well. “But there is no way anyone is going to let me up to Watchtower right now.”

Zatanna fluttered her eyebrows mischievously. “I bet I can get the Flash to agree. I think that song haunts his nightmares.”

Tim gave a small laugh. “Fine. Go ask. I’ll be right here.”

The screen blipped out as Zatanna hung up on him, so he spent a few minutes just spinning the chair in circles solely to pass the time. It took a few minutes for him to get a call back. “Flash says the sooner the better. Come on up and I’ll show you where to go.”

Huh. “Do I need to be reauthorized?”

Zatanna poked at a screen. “Nope, looks like you are still in the system.” Also huh.

“I’ll be there in about a half hour.” Traffic was pretty light this time of night, so that should give him plenty of time to get there. He moved to grab a bike when something twisted in his gut. Everyone would probably freak out if they found him gone, worried that he’d gone and joined the Joker or something equally diabolical. But this needed to be done. He was painfully aware of how vulnerable Watchtower was right now.

He’d tell Jay? Dick and Bruce weren’t home. Jay was a good person to tell. Yeah. That was a solid plan.

Cowl down, Tim walked to Jay’s door and gave it a slight knock. “Come in,” came the easy reply. Tim opened it, careful not to step into Jay’s space. The book fort had been enlarged enough for two people, or one person and a child. Dami was tucked into Jay’s side, drawing on his sketchbook. When did he get that? Tim couldn’t really ask, as the moment Dami saw him he wiggled himself deep enough into the fort that no part of him was visible.

Jay sighed. “I’m not ready to talk about things, Tim.”

Tim held up both hands non threateningly. He didn’t expect Jay to ever stop hating him for making him keep secrets from Bruce and Dick. “I know. I just,” he ran a hand through his hair. “The security update is finally finished, and Zatanna cleared it with the Flash, so I’m going to go Watchtower to install it. It might take a few hours and I just wanted to let someone know where I’d gone. So now you know.”

“Yeah, now I know.”

“I’m just gonna,” Tim closed the door, glad that was over.

He took a bike to the phone booth, sailing through the night, his cape fluttering behind him. The night brought him a sense of calm, the bike purring beneath him as he cut through the air. It was the first time he’d been alone outside of the Manor since Bruce had taken him, and it felt like stepping out from under a shadow he hadn’t known he was standing under. It was just him and the night and Tim had missed this so much.

He gave the neighborhood another circle and would have done two, but time was pressing. The Flash may have said yes, but Batman was likely to stick him in a containment cell if he caught Tim out of the Batcave.

Zatanna was waiting for him at the Zetas. “Shouldn’t you be at the monitors?” Tim asked.

“No worries. I passed it off to Green Lantern. He owed me a favor, and this way I can show you the best places to set up.” That was nice of Zatanna.

She took the scenic route, and by that she meant the one with the least number of people. Quite a few heroes had long memories and weren’t over how Tim introduced himself, which was fair. So Tim followed behind, marveling at the space station, trying to take in every detail, because he knew he wasn’t going to be allowed here again.

Zatanna led him to a single door that made the star trek whoosh noise, which was amazing. The room it was connected to was not so much. It was an open metallic space, cold and sterile. There were no cool windows to look out and the door him came through seemed to be the only one. There was also a lack of anything that looked like a computer terminal.

Tim turned to Zatanna. “Where do I set up?”

“tnelis eb.”

Tim could feel the magic slid down his throat, cool and slimy and numbing his vocal chords. He didn’t try to test it; Zatanna was an expert in what she did and she was not to be trifled with. He bolted for the door. “pirt.”

Quick reflexed had Tim’s hands absorbing the impact with the ground instead of his face. He rolled, trying to keep Zatanna in sight as though that would help the situation.

“sdnah sih dnib. Heavy invisible manacles attached themselves to his wrists, dragging his hands behind his back and sticking them together. He was forced on his side as the process was completed, left helpless before the magician.

Guess he knew who the traitor was.

She grabbed Tim’s ankles, dragging him deeper into the room. While she did that she began to talk. “On one hand, I feel bad. Nightwing seems pretty attached to you and he’s a good guy. I really don’t want to hurt him.

“But you, you I want to hurt.” Tim couldn’t manage more than a feeble squirm. “You ruined everything.” She dropped his ankles and circled him. Then she kicked him in the stomach. “We had a plan and we were going to punish the League for all their self righteousness, all their hypocrisy. Then you show up and everything I’ve spent years on falls apart like it was made of dust.” She kneeled down and grabbed Tim’s chin with her fingers, the sharp nails digging into his skin. She pulled his face so that they could see eye to eye. “And you don’t even understand.”

She let go of his face with a painful flick. “But you will. truh.”

Tim felt his spine pull back as his back muscles clenched, every nerve ending screaming in agony. He was twisting, his body instinctively trying to move away from the pain, but since it was coming from literally everywhere, all he could do was thrash. He slammed his head into the metal deck, could taste blood in his mouth, and could tell that one of his arms was close to fracturing again as he bounced on the floor.

He didn’t know how long it lasted for, but he wasn’t ashamed of the tears he shed when it stopped.

Zatanna grabbed him by the cape, lifting him to his knees. With blurred eyes he could see Batman standing in the door. Oh thank god. There was no way Bruce hated him enough to leave him to this.

“That’s enough.” Batman ordered in his quietest voice. He only used that when he was really pissed.

“It’s not!” Zatanna yelled. “It’s never going to be! The scales are never going to be balanced!”

“Tell me why this.” Bruce took a step into the room. Zatanna let Tim drop. He landed on his side with a hard thud. Zatanna stepped on Tim’s neck, heel digging in.

“Why? WHY?” Zatanna sputtered furiously. “You let that, that thing,” her voice cracked in agony, “wear my Dad’s body like a suit prance around like you don’t even care.” The heel pressed down harder. All Tim could do was hiss. “You made it a member of the Justice League.”

Bruce was in full Batman mode, sounding calm under pressure. Despite knowing how Not Good everything was, it did make Tim feel a little better. “No one is comfortable with the Dr Fate situation-”

“The situation?” Zatanna interrupted. “Is that what you’ve taken to calling it?” She sneered. “I’ve been orphaned while my Dad is still alive and the League lets his captor sit at their table like an invited guest,” she yelled, her pain echoing against the walls.

“It’s not that simple, Zatanna,” Bruce still sounded calm and reasonable. “You are smart enough to know it. If we deny him League membership, we lose the ability to predict his movements. If we can’t find him, we can’t help Zatara.”

“Help? You’ve tried nothing!” Tim was beginning to wheeze.

“There is nothing in this universe that can break Dr Fate’s hold on your father,” Batman snapped. “So I went to the next. And the next.” Batman’s foot made a scuffing sound, an aborted step forward. “I have been searching across worlds, Zatanna, for something strong enough to break Dr Fate’s hold. I have not abandoned your father.”

“You aren’t trying hard enough!,” Tears from her face dripped onto Tim’s cowl. “It’s been six years. Six years! I just want my dad back.”

“I understand, but it isn’t Red Robin’s fault.”

“Let me guess,’ she replied scornfully. “He wasn’t even in this universe when Dr Fate took my father.” Bruce remained silent. “His sudden appearance complete with his knowledge was suspicious. Everyone was laying bets on clones. But then,” and she sounded smug, so proud of herself, “Captain Marvel asked me about multiverses. I figured it out, Batman. While you were looking oh so hard to save my father, you picked up another stray.” She sneered. The heel was removed and Tim took in a gasping breath.

“How bad were they treating him that you had to bring him back here? Was he hurting? Was he dying?” She asked in a sing song voice that reminded Tim too much of Harley Quin.

“How badly do you think they miss him?”

“Tim’s not involved,” Batman stressed.

“Oh, he is, Batman. Your little pet project,” she spat. “A distraction from saving my Dad.” Her voice went pleasant. Calm. Reasonable. It turned Tim’s guts to ice. “But I’m not going to kill him. He’s going to live so you can live through the same pain I go through every day. The agony of knowing that someone is alive but lost to you forever.

“nruter.”

Tim slammed into metal, gasping at the impact. Alarms echoed through the room and it was all he could do to bring his hands up and clap them over his ears. Every nerve ending was pulsing with anguish and Tim just wanted it to stop. Someone touched him and he screamed shrilly as it set off a new wave of fire through his body.

A stream of lava burned into his neck and filled his veins with acid. Everything started to go dark and Tim thought maybe he was dying. If it made the pain go away he was okay with that.

X-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x

He woke to Dick sitting by his bed, which made Tim want to cry, want to babble out an apology, had wanted to remind Dick of his promise even though Tim the one who ruined everything. But he didn’t because something was wrong with Dick. He looked wrong. His face was carved with lines too deep to have been from recent.

“Hey, baby bird.”

Something in Tim’s brain ground to a halt.

“Tt. Did Drake not do us all a favor and expire?”

Oh.

He was back in his own universe.

Chapter Text

Grayson filled him in.

“You’ve been missing for months, Tim” Grayson explained, leaning back in his chair. “Lucius contacted us when you stopped answering your email, so Bruce went to your safe house, and really,” Grayson’s face twisted into disapproval, “Falcone’s torture basement?”

“How long did it take you to find it?” Tim rasped, his throat dry. He glanced around, trying to spot something to drink.

Grayson disapproval eased only a little. He began to twiddle his thumbs. “He found the cap of a needle that contained trace amounts of a fast acting sedative and that you were in the middle of an email when you were taken.

“Tim, how did you let your guard down that badly?” Grayson shook his head disbelieving, as though he’d never been caught in his life. Yeah, right.

“Tt. Drake continues to be a thorn in the side of natural selection,” Damian sniped from where he haunted the corner.

“We looked hard for you, Tim,” Grayson promised, and it hurt that Grayson knew it was something that needed to be stated instead of just understood. “We checked every supplier of the drug and discovered that one of the companies was selling it on the streets, so there were too many people who had access to it…” He trailed off in frustration. He’d always hated a puzzle he couldn’t solve. “Whoever had you would have seen the email, would have known who you were, so we waited for someone to make the accusation.

“It never came.” Grayson leaned in close to Tim. “We didn’t know what happened to you, baby bird. We didn’t know where you were.”

“Alternate universe,” Tim said around his sore throat. He really needed water. Even ice chips would do. “Needed help on a project. Took me.”

Damian scoffed. “Did they need a macaroni drawing?” All the pity Tim had dredged up for Damian was rapidly dwindling.

“They found you in a sublevel of Watchtower of all places,” Grayson continued, as though Damian hadn’t spoken. “You wouldn’t stop screaming, so they had to sedate you. Zatanna said there was a boatload of magic wrapped around you. She was able to dispel it, but wanted to let you know that if you feel weird for the next few days it’s to be expected.”

“Evil Zatanna,” Tim whispered in explanation.

“You’re going to be staying at the Manor.” That was an order, not a request. Grayson shifted in his chair. “We had thought you died, Tim.”

“We had hoped,” announced Damian.

Grayson didn’t even flinch. “And we pretty much tore your safe house apart looking for clues.” Tim didn’t let himself think about the loss of his safehouse.

“Water?” he croaked.

“Oh, of course.” Grayson poured him a glass.

Tim tried to sit up, but he was so thirsty he ended up spilling as much water on himself as he managed to drink. “Pig,” Damian said scornfully.

Grayson said nothing, just as he always said nothing.

Tim didn’t want to think about that. “Where’s Bruce?” he asked instead. The man wasn’t in the Batcave with them.

“Where he always is,” Grayson said with fond exasperation. “Working a case.”

“Right,” Tim answered dully.

“It’ll be nice to have you back in the Manor,” Grayson admitted. “We can always use your eyes on the cases. You really are such a detective.”

“Thanks, Dick.” A few months ago, Tim would have been thrilled to hear that. Now they just carved away another sliver of his hurt.

The man had a pleasant smile, but it was his company smile, not one meant for family. He didn’t touch Tim to offer him comfort, didn’t ask if Tim was okay. The expectation was that Tim would be fine, so Tim would be fine.

Even with Damian hanging over his shoulder, letting Tim know how disappointed he was that Tim hadn’t just kicked it, that he wasn’t rotting in a ditch somewhere, his voice positively dripping with sincerity.

And Bruce was off on a case. Of course he was. Tim had been missing for months. What were a few more hours until their reunions.

X-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x

Other Bruce swung by later that night. Morning? It was so hard to tell in the cave and no one had told him. “Tim,” he greeted cooly. “Report.”

“I’m feeling okay. A little wonky but that’s suppose to pass.” The corner of Other Bruce’s lips turned down and it took Tim a few seconds to realize where he’d gone wrong. The Mission. Right. This Bruce didn’t care about how he felt. That was irrelevant data. A distraction. “A Batman counterpart infiltrated my safehouse and passed himself off as you. Once my guard was down, he drugged me and took me to his universe. He needed me for a project.”

“What project?” Bruce asked intensely.

Do not admit Tim was the project. “Computer security. Their Watchtower was nowhere near as secure as ours.” Half truth. Close enough.

“Any events relevant to our universe?”

Tim shook his head. “They’re a few years behind us, and wildly different. Beast Boy is only thirteen there.” A frown carved its way into Other Bruce’s face so Tim offered him a shrug. “I didn’t get his full story, so I don’t know how that happened. I tried not to think about it.” The frown deepened.

“We’re going to increase your training.” Tim tried to protest but Other Bruce raised a hand, a demand for silence. “The intruder was clever enough to fool Catwoman but I expect you to be better than Selina. You were also sloppy with the Riddler.”

Tim placed his hand on his forehead, dissecting that statement. There was something important in it. “You knew,” he settled on. “You knew about the alternate universe.”

“I suspected,” Other Bruce admitted.

“You didn’t tell Dick.” Why not? Why would he keep that secret?

“We don’t currently have the technology to traverse the multiverse. A Boom Tube would not suffice,” Other Bruce laid down the cold, hard facts. “ I didn’t want Dick wasting his time trying to find a solution that was beyond us. You would either find a way to return, or you would not.”

Right. That was true, something Tim had known. It shouldn’t make him feel so cold.

“I need to talk to Dr Thompkins.” Other Bruce’s face went immediately stormy at the mere mention of the woman. It looked like he still hadn’t patched things up with her after the whole thing with Steph.

“Why?” he growled out.

Tim felt like he was confessing a sin to a priest and he didn’t know if penance would be required. “Medication. I’m on antibiotics for my spleen and they put me on antidepressants.”

“You will stop the antidepressants,” Other Bruce ordered, not even caring what had prompted Tim to take them. At least he wasn’t yelling.

“I can’t,” Tim admitted.

Other Bruce crossed his arms. “Drugs cloud the mind.”

Tim shook his head. “No, I mean I literally can’t. Just stopping antidepressants could kill me. I’m going to have to be eased off.”

“You should have never taken them in the first place.”

Tim couldn’t help but think of Dami, following him around like an angry duckling carrying around mugs of soup and bottles of pills. Tim had ruined that, but the memory was something warm to hold onto. “I didn’t really have a choice, Bruce,” Tim grumbled, the edges of his temper beginning to fray.

Other Bruce raised an eyebrow in chastisement. “There is always another choice.”

I’m not you, Bruce, Tim wanted to scream. There isn’t always another choice for me. Instead, he asked mildly, “When do you think I can talk to Leslie?”

“Red Robin can swing by her office tonight.”

“I could probably go in plainclothes now.” Tim wasn’t sure he was ready to be back in costume. He could still taste his silent screams.

“Tim Wayne is currently doing a world sail tour. You can’t be seen back in Gotham.” Tim groaned. That was going to kill any reputation he’d managed to build as a responsible CEO for Wayne Enterprises. “Next time don’t get kidnapped,” Bruce said reading the thought from Tim’s expression. As though this situation was Tim’s fault.

Tim sucked in a breath. “I don’t know if I’m ready to fly again.”

“Don’t be selfish.” Bruce snapped. Tim flinched. “People need us, will die without us. You need to put whatever doubts you have aside and focus on the Mission.”

“Right,” Tim twisted his face into a repentant smile. “Right,” he echoed himself dimly. It was stupid that he wanted a hug.

X-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x

He grappled his way across the city. Barbara had gushed over how glad she was that he was back before getting back to business. He tried to go straight to Leslie’s, but it didn’t take long for Oracle to redirect him to a jewelry store robbery. Three guys with guns and no hostages. The police would be there soon but Tim was closer.

He swing through the already broken window, swinging his bo hard to express his displeasure at being delayed. He knocked them into a pile feeling no satisfaction at the task. The police could have handled that. “I’m resuming route to Leslie’s.”

“Belay that,” Barbara ordered and the only reason Tim didn’t throw his head back and swear was because he was a professional. “Red Hood requires immediate assistance.”

“Can’t someone else-”

“You’re closest. You really need to get over whatever grudge you have with Red Hood. He’s a valued member of this team.” Barbara rebuked.

Tim rubbed at his face. “I’m on my way.”

Red Hood really was in trouble, which Tim supposed was a good thing. It meant that this wasn’t a trap for Tim. He took stock of the situation before swinging in, one hand on his bo. He slammed into the crowd of gangsters, Black Mask’s men by the looks of it, and started swinging. He was doing a pretty good job of it when something hot buried itself in his thigh.

Tim cried out as his leg gave. He fell to his knees while surrounded by enemies. He activated his staff, the gift from Dami and only physical momento he had that proved the other universe hadn’t been a ragged dream, and swung it desperately. Men screamed as the hissing turned into cracks as lightening entered their skin, dropping them instantly. It gave him enough room to get back to his legs, blood oozing from a bullet wound to his thigh.

His armor was tough. These thugs wouldn’t have been packing the kind of heat needed to pierce it. Unless…

He turned to Jason, the man spinning a gun in his hand. “Hey, Replacement,” he greeted cheerfully, as though there was no undercurrent of murder in his voice. It was fairly hidden by the electronic filtering of his helmet, but Tim knew the man. “I heard they’d found you.” He pointed at Tim’s wound with his gun. “Looks like you got clipped. Hit an artery?” He feigned concern.

“It’s fine.” Tim had no idea if it was fine, but he wasn’t going to hang around with Jason to find out.

Jason took a step forward and Tim took a step back. “Scared of me, baby bird?” His voice was mockingly sweet, like a twisted parody of Jay’s.

“Yes,” Tim admitted, tired of this game, of all the games. “You’re trying to kill me and no one cares. Of course I’m scared of you.”

Jason cocked his head, expressionless helmet trying to bore into Tim’s soul. “It took you this long to figure it out that I was trying to kill you? Or that no one would care if I did?” he sneered.

Tim felt his shoulders slump. He just… he couldn’t do this. Couldn’t fake it for these people anymore. Couldn’t listen as Jay’s voice threatened him. As Damian called for blood. He couldn’t take a Dick that didn’t care.

Couldn’t handle a Bruce that would never love him.

“You’ve got your shot.” Jason crossed his arms at the statement but didn’t say anything. Tim folded his staff up and tucked it into place in his harness. “I won’t dodge, won’t move. You’re right that no one will care.”

Jason scoffed, the noise echoing weirdly from the helmet. “You suicidal or something?”

Tim bared his teeth. “It took you this long to figure that out?”

Jason laughed as his own words were thrown back at him. “I’m not one to look a gift horse in the mouth.” He took long steps until he was standing right in front of Tim. “If this is one of your stupid little games I will make you regret being born,” Jason hissed.

Tim laughed mirthlessly. “I already regret that.” He closed his eyes and waited for the pressure of the barrel against his forehead. Jason did not disappoint. Tim didn’t even flinch.

“You’ve got guts, Timmers. It’s a shame. Maybe in another lifetime we could have been friends.”

They had been, until Tim had ruined it.

Tim relaxed, leaning into the barrel. He just needed this to be over.

The pressure disappeared as Jason swore, a shot booming right beside Tim’s ear. Tim dropped to the ground, covering his ringing ear. He opened his eyes and in the alleyway Nightwing was viciously kicking Jason’s ass. “You think,” he slammed his sticks across the helmet, “that you can,” Jason’s arm definitely cracked, “shoot my little brother?” The tips of both sticks jabbed into Jason’s diaphragm, dropping him like a stone.

Tim stood again, feeling confused and slightly disappointed. Now what? Tim was probably going to get shit for provoking Jason.

Instead, Nightwing folded him into a hug. “Holy crap you were going to let him shoot you!” What was going on? “Don’t scare me like that. I love you too much to lose.” Oh. Oh my god. It was Dick. Dick had come for him.

Tim started to sob, holding onto Dick desperately. “You came,” he whispered, “you came for me.”

“I promised,” Dick whispered. “I promised you I would always be there.” He shifted Tim so that the hug was with one arm, the other going to his ear. “I’ve got him, B. He’s wounded and a mess. We need to evac now.”

“Red Robin, report.” Oracle demanded.

He pushed off of Dick, making it clear he was on comms. “Here. Red Hood’s situation has been resolved.”

“I’ve got unusual activity in you area. I’m going to hack comms, but see if you can’t get your eyes on the problem.” It wouldn’t take her long to get in.

Tim turned to Dick. “Comms are compromised.”

“That’s okay,” Dick grabbed Tim’s hand. “Meeting place is already set up.”

He waited until he was sure Tim would follow, and then shot into the night.

They ended up back where it all started. At the restaurant. They beat Bruce there, so Dick sat Tim on the dilapidated counter counter and wrapped his thing with stark white bandages. “I was carrying extra because you are you,” Dick informed him primly. It made Tim chuckle. Dick’s next question did not.

“Who was that guy in the alley? I don’t think we have him in our universe.”

Tim shook his head. “You don’t want the answer, Nightwing.”

Dick put a hand on Tim’s shoulder. “If you can live with knowing, so can I.”

Tim shuddered. Dick wasn’t going to let this go. “That was this world’s Jay.” Dick sucked in a breath through his teeth. “I told you that you didn’t want to know.”

Dick responded by wrapping his arms around Tim, pulling back when there was the soft whisper of the Batcloak. Sure enough, Batman materialized in the doorway. “Hey B,” Dick greeted. “You’re getting slow in your old age.” He went to move closer but Tim grabbed his elbow and pulled Dick back.

“Batman,” he greeted Other Bruce.

“Red Robin,” he growled out flatly. He was pissed. So very pissed. Tim couldn’t help but flinch back.

Dick, stupid loyal loving Dick, drew his escrima sticks and stepped inbetween Tim and Other Bruce. Dick, who didn’t stand a ghost of a chance against a man who’d spent his entire life doing nothing but becoming the perfect fighting machine.

Other Bruce took a step forward and Tim could read the intent to hurt written all over his body. “Don’t,” Tim pleaded. Other Bruce’s eyes flicked to Tim for the barest second.

“You’ve been compromised.” He raised his fists.

Tim grabbed his bo. He knew this Batman, could read the lines of rage as clearly as he had when he was a child. This was a Batman who had lost a Robin, who thought he was losing a Robin again. But this time he had a chance to reclaim his partner. It wasn’t about Tim. It was about symbols and Tim didn’t want that anymore. He didn’t fit into the hole they’d carved out for him and he couldn’t live with being stuffed back in. He stepped up beside Nightwing, staff extended.

Smoke filled the space, and Tim flipped him and Nightwing over the counter so they weren’t sitting ducks as it cleared. He listened hard, trying to get a sense of Other Bruce’s position. There was the slap of kevlar on kevlar and Tim tipped his head high enough so that he could see what was going on.

Other Bruce was on his knees while Bruce stood over him, shaking in rage. “You never come near my sons again.”

Other Bruce slid to his feet, as graceful as a shadow. “Tim is my son.” Oh god. Don’t fight. Other Bruce was older and far more vicious. He didn’t waste time having movie night with Jay, or taking Dami to the zoo. He trained and he fought and he trained again. One on one Bruce couldn’t beat him and Other Bruce wouldn’t stop pounding once it was clear it was over.

“No,” Bruce hissed. “Tim found you. He offered you everything, and you chose to make him a soldier. You feed him and you give him marching orders, but beyond his use as a tool you don’t care.”

“I adopted him,” Other Bruce fired back, his voice made of granite. Dick grabbed Tim’s elbow and together they slowly rose to their feet.

“You abandoned him!” Bruce roared. “You abandoned him and I found him! I held him why he cried, gave him the love you are so incapable of! I won’t allow you to break him again!” They stuck to the shadows, moving closer to Bruce like ghosts upon the unsuspecting. Tim had no doubt that Bruce knew exactly where they were.

Other Bruce remained silent, as though he was collecting shadows. It took a moment for him to respond in a gravelly voice. “Tim picked this. He chose to be Robin.”

“And I picked him! I carved out a place for him to fit in my life. He is mine now and I will not allow you to take him from me.”

Other Bruce eyed Bruce up. “You’re outmatched.” It was painfully true.

Bruce scoffed. “And you’re outclassed.”

He took a step back and Dick grabbed his arm and slammed Tim against his back. The world flashed to static that he had to blink away. When the effects of photobleaching ended he was back in the restaurant, Jay and Dami both waiting anxiously.

“Did you…?” Jay asked anxiously. Bruce took a step to the side, revealing Tim, and Jay uncoiled.

Dami dashed forward, stumbling across the debris in a way that would make his teachers pull their hair out. He didn’t seem to care as he slammed into Tim, sobbing hysterically. “I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I’ll never be mad again so don’t leave. I love you, Timothy. You’re my brother and I love you. You have to stay with me.”

Tim kneeled down and held Damian tight. “I won’t. I’m sorry. I didn’t want to go. I’ll stay,” he promised. “Don’t be sorry. I’ll stay.” When it became apparent that Dami was not going to let go, Tim lifted him and the boy automatically wrapped his legs around Tim’s waist, making him easier to carry.

Jay came up and put a hand on Tim’s shoulder. “You’re an idiot and I feel like you might trip down the stairs and die, but I love you, little bro.” He gave Tim a pat.

Bruce came up and pulled Tim into a gentle hug. Dami grumbled as he had to share, but Bruce was careful not to squish him. “Let’s get you home.”

Home. Tim liked that.