‘What are these?’
Tim flinches in spite of himself, because fuck, I should’ve remembered to cover them up-
Jason’s fingers are already running over the slice marks on Tim’s inner thigh, his smile already dissolving into amused curiosity. Trust him not to immediately get it - Jason’s terrible, but he’s so nice it’s alarming. For all the bad things that have happened to him, it wouldn’t occur to him what the marks meant to Tim. What they meant about him.
Tim drags Jason’s hand away, and places it on the side of his ass where he knows Jason will be mildly distracted, and says absently, ‘Old case. Mistimed a dodge. Gotham, y’know?’
And then, to seal the deal, he commands Jason’s attention with a kiss.
Tim’s eyes are closed, but there’s water in their corners that he just can’t control. Jason can’t know... he just can’t, especially him of all people. He makes it out like the shine in his eyes is endearment, as much as he can, because in a moment like this where Jason is above him - shielding him from the world - he should have nothing to fear, and only something to love. And he does, really, I do, but he also has to hide some things. Things he’s not ready to share, might not ever be...
They kiss deeply, and thankfully Jason carries on like Tim hoped he would. He is convinced that everything is right and good with Tim. And his touch helps, which is a first. Tim couldn’t have known how soothing and reassuring and distracting intimacy would be. It was helpful, he’d concluded. Enveloping. He wants to be able to shut off sometimes; I want it so bad... If he relaxed more, he’d have fewer problems.
So, like he asks of himself, he loses himself in Jason and intimacy and fuck, I needed this, and with his head resting in the crook of Jason’s arm he even manages to fall asleep.
Tim dreams of nothing.
And when he wakes up, he doesn’t even need to move to know that Jason isn’t there. Tim might have even scared him away, but that was always going to be an issue, wasn’t it? More likely, he just didn’t want to disturb Tim. Tim, who doesn’t sleep enough. Tim, who always looks like he carries and bottles. Tim, who bares the weight of the world on his shoulders. Tim... who doesn’t eat enough, who doesn’t value his life enough. Timothy, who should cry more and laugh less humourlessly, who should feel something when he is cut at.
Tim’s still sore, in a way that he appreciates. He wants to get up and move and be productive but he also wants to stay completely still. He imagines being completely still, almost dead, still as a corpse, not so much as a twitch, there’s no point to anything, is there-?
Even when he’s alone, he can feel danger. Like the calm before a storm. Foreboding. He’s always on edge, a final straw away from catastrophe. Tim has been told that he is dangerously close to perfect before (by Jason... and Steph, and Kon), and this is why. It’s his superpower. Tim understands the truth that nothing is ever safe, no one is done, nothing is ever over - he never fails to react.
The price is that it is harder to think for himself. To... to actively participate, to choose himself over the rest when everything is important. All things are equally important, but still some things are more important than others. I’m not making sense, just shut up, Tim... Tim’s mind doesn’t listen to him. It doesn’t have an off switch.
An alarm goes off, and Tim hates it, hate that fucking noise so much- he reaches for it, and when he finally has his phone in his hands he throws it at the wall. It scratches the wall, and clatters in shattered pieces on the wooden floor. It reminds him of a shrapnel grenade. Tim can make out from the sound that he could fix it later if he can bring himself to.
Tim can’t rest. But he doesn’t move from his position either, can’t even bring myself to get up just yet, and the next time he bothers to engage with his surroundings, the whole day has gone by and the sun isn’t even leaking through the curtains anymore. It’s stopped. There are sounds coming from the rest of the apartment. The general hubbub of cooking, sounds like stirring, maybe Jason’s making soup, shitty radio pop music that Tim would switch off if he was there. Silence and company make for better atmosphere. And still, he hasn’t even gotten out of bed. He’s wasted the whole day. Jason is out there, living and being productive and doing things, and I am wasting away.
Tim’s concentration has flown so far out the window that he doesn’t even notice when Jason opens the bedroom door. He’s not sure for how long Jason has been watching, just staring at him from the threshold, judging him, assessing the situation, but when he does finally react, it’s with a careful turn, and a fake-sultry twist and a small smile softer than slept-in bedsheets. With his best submissive bedroom eyes (because how else can he play this), Tim greets simply, ‘Hey...’
Jason’s face is so easy to read.
He’s not convinced.
‘You been in bed all day?’ He says, face blank with what Bruce would call concern. God, is it wrong that the similarity is turning him on? Tim hates that he can’t help his thoughts sometimes.
He lies easily, ‘No, not all day. Just trying to catch up on all that missed sleep you’ve been telling me so much about.’ He puts a bit of snark in his tone, makes it playful, aloof, a little sarcastic. Amiable, pleasant, but not too compliant. Jason likes a little resistance. Shows of strength. Talent, even. An opportunity to play detective because they are the mission, they are always on job, I am way overthinking this.
Jason chuckles into a sigh, and replies, ‘Well, either way, get up and freshen up. Dinner’s almost ready. I am not waiting for you.’
He will wait, though. Always does. Tim huffs testily, and in a voice not unlike the teenager he could’ve been in another life he grouses, ‘Yes, mom.’
Jason doesn’t dignify that with a response. And, if he’s seen the broken phone on the floor just to his left, or the mark on the grey-blue wall, then he hasn’t made that clear either. Jason’s head is shaking as he exits, though, in that disbelieving amused way. We are not amused. Tim can’t wait to seduce him back again over bowls of soup.
Tim makes it to the bathroom with that thought in mind, and showers quickly. He scrubs at his thigh a little more harshly than usual, but that’s understandable, all things considered. That’s what Tim tells himself, to avoid the issue like usual, whatever gets me to move on the fastest I guess, so that he never has to confront the issue again. Head-on confrontations are less his style. Sounds more like Jason to him.
He stares at the face in the mirror. Probably stares longer than he spent washing. Tim doesn’t understand what Jason sees, doesn’t trust it, but he is himself convinced that there is a ghost underneath all the flesh and skin and bones and blood. There’s a monster somewhere; Tim’s spent forever looking for it.
When he arrives at the dining table, dressed casual and baggy, he masks his glee. Jason is sitting there with a bowl of untouched stew in front of him, with another one placed at the seat across him. Both are still steaming. There’s a plate of toast too, also untouched for barely a crumb looks disturbed. Jason puts the magazine he’d been hiding his face behind to the side, and picks up a spoon. Tim slides into his seat and follows his lead without a word.
But, as they eat, Tim pokes Jason with his feet, and Jason reacts and shoves him back, and their legs become intertwined. Softly grazing and stroking one another’s, all under the table while they eat in companionate silence.
There is also a knife, beside the plate of toasted bread, besides a tub of butter, that as of yet remains untouched. Blunt, serrated edges, the kind that would mangle the simple slice and butcher a cut. Uncouth. Not a useful tool, but a decent dining utensil. For a split second Tim imagines driving it into his own leg, wondering how deep it would go, wondering what the quote-end-quote ‘sharp’ edge would feel like as it pieced his skin, would be fucking riveting-
‘How is it?’
‘I- ‘S good, Jay. Did you make it less spicy than last time?’ Says Tim, picking up a slice of toast and dipping the corner of it into his bowl, and munching away in a practiced, casual-lazy, monotonous, focussed-on-eating type of way.
Jason doesn’t know the half of what goes through Tim’s head.
Jason feigns being affronted, and says, ‘You calling my food bland, Timmy?’
‘No,’ Tim says (because oh, how we love to argue), ‘Last time I could only handle that one bowl. This, I’m gonna take the whole pot, Jay.’
He hadn’t eaten all day, so the hunger is authentic. Now that he’s eating, and his hands are doing something, and his face is getting some good exercise, he feels a little better. More himself. More prepared. Tim knows better than to waste away like this. Tim continues, because Jason requires, needs, deserves constant affection, ‘I really like what you’ve done with the chicken as well. Is it like curry, or just black pepper and paprika-?’
‘It’s, ah... probably the red chilli power. And there’s turmeric.’
Tim lays it on a bit thick, but it’s part of my charm, I think.
‘Hmm, I like it. Balance is right.’ Tim says between chews, because the taste in his mouth doesn’t match the gutter his head fell in. Nothing is balanced, nothing is even, he is always conceding and swinging returns but that’s the job I do best, and if he says it enough maybe it will suddenly become true.
Despite what Tim said, Jason has finished another helping and a half just as he finishes his first. The bread, the chicken, the broth and the spices... it was basic and cleansing and simple but hearty. Just like Jason. Wholesome. Substantial. Hearty. Warm and cosy when they cuddle in bed, when they have nothing to do except we’re always doing things and we never have time to stop and take stock, fuck it’s so frustrating-
Tim blinks, and just like that he is back where he started, Jason’s chest on top of his, and hands wondering. They’ve eaten dinner, teamed up to tackle the dishes, watched a movie (Tim vaguely remembers seeing katanas and hearing gunfire), and lightly made out. They cuddled, and Tim hugged Jason’s arm and rested his head on it like he wasn’t comfortable anywhere else.
And after, when Jason has decided that Tim needs to capitalise on the ‘evening’ off he’s taken, his strong careful hands find their way up Tim’s leg again. But when they expertly dodge Tim’s inner thigh and move straight up to the side of his hip, Tim freezes. His lips stop working. It’s like his heart has stopped pulsating because he suddenly can’t feel anything.
I’m such a fucking idiot.
Jason has been sat outside the bedroom door for almost an hour. The noise from the other side has all but stopped, except for the occasional pad of Tim’s feet as he paces. Jason’s never known him to pace. Never known him to sob during sex. That’s a lie, Jason, don’t you remember that one time, with the...? Tim and Jason have been shy, and gotten over it, together, a long time ago.
But this is different. Tim had flipped, gone pale and run cold and shoved Jason off, Jason who didn’t understand what was wrong at all. Tim had pushed him off, and kicked him out of the room, and locked the door. Locked himself in the bedroom.
‘Tim... talk to me.’ Jason says, calling out for the tenth time. He doesn’t understand. He just wants to know what he did. He’s trying not to sound frustrated, and especially not angry, because I’m not, really, but Jason hates when Tim does this. He doesn’t appreciate being kept out of the dark, but that’s not the only issue he’s having. Of course they have their own problems, their own secrets... Jason doesn’t like Tim assuming that he can’t help. It makes him feel shitty and worthless and weak.
‘Timmy, if you don’t open this door, I swear, I’m gonna break it-’
Tim opens the door, wearing shorts and an oversized tee that says ‘sleep is for the weak’. Jason thinks it’s his, but it might just be Tim’s. Sounds more like something Damian would say, and Tim would probably get a kick out of wearing that in front of the kid. It’s the kind of subtle thing that would make Damian paranoid, thereby pissing him off. It’s a long game; tactical... something Tim would discuss doing but never go through with, unless Jason convinced him to do it.
Jason is good at getting Tim to do things that would make him feel good, especially when Tim talks himself out of doing anything fun, or liberating, or... selfish. Tim is selfless.
Tim drops a plain white t-shirt into Jason’s lap, and looks down at him with red eyes. ‘Can I borrow a cigarette?’
Jason blinks slow, but the look on Tim’s face doesn’t change. To be fair, Jason would waste Cuban cigars on Tim. So, he nods, sliding up from his vigil and slipping the shirt on. He goes to his jacket, by the door, and fishes out his cigarettes. Tim’s already made it to the balcony door, sliding it open and stepping out without waiting for Jason. Jason fiddles with his lighter as he walks out to join him.
Jason leans on the brick of the balcony, staring out at the city that should be sleeping. Traffic. Glow of yellow light. The sky isn’t falling. No screaming. Good. He’s a good foot away from Tim, and for good reason - he still doesn’t know what he did, or if he’ll do it again, what if I hurt him even more, and that upsets Jason a lot.
But maybe it isn’t something he did. Tim comes closer, and though they aren’t exactly bumping shoulders, they’re breathing the same air. Tim watches tentatively as Jason pulls out a cigarette, puts it to the flame, and then Tim reaches out for it-
And Jason brings it to his own mouth, turning his face away from Tim’s as he puts the packet on the balcony, with the lighter. Do it yourself.
Tim accepts the challenge. He takes his own and lights it all casual like, as if he’s been smoking for years. As he takes it in, Jason sees the frown threatening to crack Tim’s porcelain face. Tim exhales, and admits, ‘I thought these helped.’
‘You’re not exactly a chain-smoker, are ya?’
‘Still...’ Tim says, sounding tired of talking even though they’ve just started.
Jason looks at the cigarette in his own hand, blistering away, and explains, ‘I only smoke when I’m nervous.’
‘You smoke all the time.’
‘Ain’t that telling you anything, baby bird.’
Tim doesn’t respond, but crosses his arms over his chest like he’s cold. There’s barely a breeze, but maybe Tim can feel it with his legs out like that- his leg, the scratches... that’s what this is about, isn’t it? Jason turns fully to Tim, and promises, ‘It’ll be ok, Timmy.’ Eventually.
‘Don’t lie to me.’ He scoffs, without derision. Saying it himself, Tim confesses, ‘I’ve been... make up and stuff. Covering it all up for all this time. You know how much effort it is? It takes me two hours in advance to prep just on the off chance that we end up fucking in the shower-’
Why does that sound like an accusation? ‘You’re nuts, Tim. What made you think that you had to hide this from me? Do- do you like doing it? Do you get, like, a... a kick?’
‘No! I- it’s not-‘
‘It’s not right. But... I also know you won’t stop. Not just because I say so.’ I don’t mean anything to you at all, do I?
Tim stubs his unfinished cigarette out on the balcony, and says, ‘So what are you gonna do?’
In all honesty, he doesn’t know. Half of him wants to call in the cavalry; storm into Wayne Enterprises and speak to Bruce, man to man, no cameras, no bugs, no unwelcome extra audience. Because Jason feels like he doesn’t know Tim at all, suddenly. Tim is... Tim is cute, and clumsy, and funny, and makes him feel good when he’s not and he’s betraying me. Jason is left second-guessing everything he thinks he knows about Tim.
The other half of him, admittedly, wants to break something.
He’s almost too scared to ask, but he needs to know and he can’t help it, ‘Is... Is this why you’re with me? Because I tried to slit your throat?!’
‘No, Jason, no!’ Tim cries, because there are tears falling down his face again just when they’d thought they were calming down. ‘I swear, us has nothing to do with- with me.’
Tim is struggling to put to words the feelings in his head, and Jason can see him straining, failing to compute. Jason understands that much. Tim has squeezed his eyes shut, and his breathing is stuttering out of control. ‘Jason, please, I don’t... please don’t leave me!’
Jason catches Tim in his arms, and hushes him as he cries. His victim training has kicked in, but this is so different because Tim baby please don’t cry. Jason has got him, and sways with him just to centre him. Tim likes it, he’s told him before as they stayed up in bed together. That’s what love is to them.
‘Tim... why the fuck would I leave, huh? You’re everything I have, baby...’
He whispers more of the same into Tim’s hair, and eventually shaky breaths abate to slow and steady ones.
‘I don’t want anyone else- don’t tell anybody.’ Tim orders, voice muffled against Jason’s chest.
But Jason doesn’t take orders. ‘Tim,’ he sighs, ‘You know that’s not up to me now.’ There’s a protocol to follow. Tim knows it, has practiced it, and has avoided it.
Jason, still holding Tim, begins walking him back inside. With each step, he speaks, ‘You’re gonna be just fine, alright? I’m not going anywhere.’
Jason has nowhere else to go.
There’s no point trying to go back to bed now. He pulls Tim to the sofa and puts on an old cartoon, some movie about a fox and a dog. He lets Tim snuffle and whimper, and occasionally hit him out of frustration until all of his energy dies out and he is just cuddling stoically. The movie calms Tim down, but it also calms Jason. He needed it more than he realised.
Tim still seems... off. Broken. And what’s worse, it caught me completely off guard. Jason hadn't seen it coming, even when the broken skin was under his fingertips. He’s made every effort to be loving and still he’s failed. Sitting there in relative silence, with Tim finally drained of all... feeling, it feels like a cop out. Jason should be doing more. Jason wants to do something.
Jason turns, and Tim is still looking at the television. ‘Yeah, baby?’
‘I’m sorry I ruined sex.’ He says quietly.
‘Tim, that is the last thing you should- you have nothing to be sorry for.’
Tim snuggles in, and starts tracing constellations on Jason’s arms. ‘I’m... I’m sorry I wasn’t honest. But I can’t ask you to fix me, Jay.’
You don’t have to ask me, Tim.
Jason wants to say it aloud, but Tim is sucking out the drive in him to fight. He doesn’t want to upset him, especially now. He doesn’t want to make things difficult for him. It wouldn’t be fair.
‘You- you being here is enough, I think.’
Jason disagrees. ‘I’m taking your knives. Your razors. You- everything, when you need things you’re gonna have to ask me. Ball point pens, forks, scissors, everything - your fucking business cards... I’m taking all the locks off all the doors. You’re gonna talk to me now, we- we’ll talk to someone, together. You’re not allowed to cut yourself again, Timmy. I can’t lose you, baby bird, I cannot... you hear me? I’m gonna take care of you.’
Jason has never been more serious, more scared, or more sure.
‘Take care of me, or you taking care of me, Jay?’
Jason looks at Tim with a raised eyebrow, and when their eyes meet there’s a mischievous glint that fills Jason’s chest like concrete. Jason can’t help it; he laughs, and puts his arm around Tim and squeezes him tight.
I will always protect you.