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Fracture What-If: BatDad

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All-in-all, invading aliens are douche canoes.

Seriously.

Kon, Cassie, Bart, Rave, Gar, and Miguel are all in agreement with him on this one; especially after they were all trapped in an endless of loop of their worst moment, worst losses, worst failures while stuck in the alien’s most powerful weapon: the Mind Trap.

Sure, it had been his brilliant, last-ditch idea to jump ball to the wall into the trap, giving him the access to their neural net he needed to break the hive mentality and shut them down from the inside.

It doesn’t make anything, any of it, any better.

While he’s reliving Kon’s final moments, Raven’s near insanity at the hand of Trigon, Gar’s out-of-control power ripping his body apart, Cassie’s nearly fatal injuries, Bart’s last wishes while he coughs up blood and bile, Miguel watching his beloved slip in a coma to hover on the edge of death—

While he’s doing all of that, Cassie is getting hit with a two week span of time he was tortured as Tim Drake, Kon is getting a load of life with a ruptured spleen bleeding out, Bart is feeling the contagion taking hold to kill Batman’s sidekick, Gar is feeling the pain when he, Damian, and Dick are fighting it out after the Robin tunic was given away without his consent, and Miguel is feeling a whole lot of owfuck from that time the Red Hood tried giving him a second smile to worry about.

But what matters in the end? With Raven’s help, he’s able to keep part of his mind partitioned off from the alien device so he can live through the atrocities of his team and hack the invader’s tech at the same time—enough to put in his carefully recalibrated virus to take them the fuck down.

The trap faded around them once the virus his jackpot and breaks the neural-net connection, essentially making the invaders as potent as five-year olds throwing temper tantrums.

The following beat-down is enjoyable enough to make up for the hour spent reliving their worst moments and fears, in having those moments share with the rest of the team.

Well, not really.

But still, it’s a pretty sweet revenge fight.

As per usual, the JL appears out of the sky over San Fran once the main body of fighting is pretty much over and done with. They’ve already started on clean-up with the local authorities when Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Zatanna, the Flash, Martian Manhunter, Green Arrow, and the Batman show up to take a look around at the nice pile of former mayhem.

It’s a surprise when Superman goes straight for Superboy, eyes wide with concern, gripping the teen’s arms and asking quietly if he’s been hurt, is he okay? Does he need to go to the fortress for some healing time?

Wonder Woman is similarly concerned upon seeing Wonder Girl wavering with some bloody patches on her elbows and ribs, but it’s the younger hero’s eyes that really bother her. Without a word to the rest of the Justice League, she takes one of her protégé’s arms around her shoulders and takes to the sky, intent on going to Paradise Island for the younger to recuperate.

The Flash pretty much catches KF in an all-encompassing hug, blurting out how bad ass the younger speedster did on such terrible bad guys, how proud he is of what KF did here today, how they need to check him over before he collapses, and just let me feed and care for you, little bro.

Zatanna feels the sharp, aching throb of pain coming directly from Raven, the power radiating in shards of agony.  As a fellow magic user, she has no qualms going directly to the younger woman and talking gently, almost begging her to come to New York and the quiet room set-up to negate magic and allow for healing.

Martian Manhunter, who’s known Gar for years, sees the strain, the trembling, flinching muscle, and just pulls the unresisting Beast Boy up in his arms with something spoken softly against the mop of green hair, and flies off with a nod to the Bat.

Red Robin, beaten and abused, bloody and limping, is glad the JL came for his team; the aftermath of this, the rawness of it, the pain, would be a real bitch for them to deal with. They would need the support and the time to come back from the slideshow of horrors they all experienced.

He turns away from the members of his team being taken away by their mentors and friends, going up to Cyborg with a copy of the virus he created to take the Insurgents down, and gave the JL member some of the deets about the who, what, when, where, and why since, you know, invading aliens are usually part of the JL’s extensive repertoire of ass-kicking.

He finally puts the bo away now that clean-up crews are underway and the invaders are being detained by A.R.G.U.S.  With the job over and done with, he pulls a grapple in one bloody hand, fires it at the convenient rooftop to take to flight. Their part is done and Amanda Waller’s people can figure out what the fuck to do with the aliens.

At least from here, he’s close enough to the Tower to get half-way there without doing more damage to his ribs and the terrible concussion—

(V)

—Vash the Stampede, hitting the back of his brain pan. He needs antibiotics and first-aid to stop the bleeding as well as possible other bad shit, like septic shock, from setting in (since, really, it’s ass) before he starts up adding this little sitch to the Titan’s records. Then he needs to get back on the hunt for those curiously well-funded labs getting Black Market equipment, and—

The slight paf of another zip line shakes him a little in mid-air.

The shadow of the Bat is coming right up behind him, dark cape flaring out behind the older vigilante so Red can plainly see B’s arm already out to grab him around the middle and pretty much pull him right the hell off his own zip line.

“What the f—!?”

But they’re moving through the air, his words lost to the rushing wind while B’s line attaches to the Batplane flying overhead, retracting to bring them closer to the dark silhouette in the sky.

With his back pressed up against the yellow oval and symbol on B’s chest (and once upon a fucking time this meant something, didn’t it?), and that arm like iron around him, Red’s lip curls up in a sneer, shouting over the Batplane’s engine making his hurting jaw ache just that much more.

“What the hell do you need?” The unsaid can’t this wait? Is right there.

B leans in to talk against his ear while they’re still in mid-air, probably not at all aware of the ringing so loud anyway, “I don’t need anything. Hold on.”

But through the lightheadedness, the strikes of vertigo, the nausea rising up, Red still clenches his aching jaw and focuses on how the hold around his gut hurting this much proves he’s pulled something probably important.

“Then I don’t want a ride to the Tower. I’ve got it” Because he does. He’s had to have his own back for the better part of two years, before and after he brought B back from being lost in time and left the Bats to figure their own shit out. He’s stayed away from their family when he’s in Gotham, stayed back because, well, Replacement, right?

Even if he and Jason are on better terms than ‘let me show you the pointy end of this knife,’ he’s still not even fucking going there.

The exit door to the Batplane slides open right under the cockpit. “I’m not giving you a ride to Titan’s Tower.” Is B’s rumbling reply as they close in.

“Not all of us can jump from one crisis to the next. Give me 48 hours and then you can email me with whatever intel you’re after.” But he’s blinking behind the whiteouts, feeling sick and fuzzy, the injuries that apparently aren’t going to just wait a minute.

“I don’t need any intel, Tim,” B snaps out, seemingly angry at something.

Red is too far into the pain game to really give a fuck about more of this little back-and-forth with his former partner. “Then what the hell do you want?” He snaps back, gripping the arm around him at the wrist, pulling his secondary grapple for, you know, just in case.

(Well, it’s not like they’re on good terms or anything—B has a Robin, so what’s this all about?)

“Stop it. You’re going to fall,” the arms gets tighter with his meddling, and Red gasps out a pained noise when something tender is squeezed right along with it. His upper body flops over B’s arm in an attempt to curl up against the pain.

He barely realizes they’re up through the door and into the cockpit while the plane glides smoothly on auto-pilot. The minute B’s arm falls away, he can brace himself on the control panel and try to breathe without puking.

Gloved hands turning him makes him jerk back a step as far as he can in the small space, pulling away.

“Just…just get me to the damn Tower,” is hoarse, blood on the Batplane’s floor now. Great, he’s going to probably get a right bitching in his voicemail from Alfred explaining what a pain in the ass bloodstains are to get out, Sir.

“I’m not taking you to the Tower,” B growls back.

And there it is again, Batman is gripping his bicep, pulling him closer, the whiteouts dipped down and the free hand roving over the torn places in his suit.

“Then why the fuck am I in here, and—and stop thatShit!” His knees wobble, his move to pull back aborted when a gloved hand presses along his left side. Bile rushes up into his throat, swallowed back down by sheer fucking willpower.

“The Titans just took on invading aliens, Tim. You need medical attention and time to recuperate. Your suit stood up to most of it, but you’re bleeding.”

Again. There it is. B said his name more times in the last ten minutes than he has in the last year. What. The. Ever. Loving. Fuck. Is. Happening?

“Then—” he stutters out between panting breaths, fighting the dizziness and pending gray edges to his vision, “let me go to the fucking Tower so I can patch myself up.”

B seems to finally get that something is rotten in Denmark, and lets Red pull out of the hold. With his vision failing and go time eminent, Red fumbles back at the control panel in an attempt to slam the button that will open the door back for him to jump out of and fire his extra grapple. Then he’s going to be hitting the Medical floor in like, six minutes tops because much longer and he’s going to be in oh shit land just like when the Triad—

He misses on the first shot because B knocks his hand away and the exit stays closed.

“Wh-What the hell are you—?”

And sometimes, B is just that guy because the corresponding blow to his worst injury is such a fucking dick move.

But it has the intended effect, showing how weak he apparently is because his knees knock together and go out on him. He would have ended up on the floor if B hadn’t swept him up like some fainting lily and kicked the co-pilot’s chair around with one foot to set him down in it.

“You’re in no shape to go back to the Tower,” B makes it statement punctuated with the last hit.

“…asshole…” he faintly gasps while the pain makes him clench his jaw against a noise.

“We’re going to talk when I’m not worried about internal bleeding and broken bones. Since when have you been taking care of injuries this extensive on your own? I’m fairly sure a stipulation to joining the Titans was that you keep me updated when you get hurt.” B fills in, hands pausing when he realizes the Red Robin’s suit design is…different. Very different. The design has changed, along with the security traps (and he wonders when it happened. He should have the current designs of all his sons’ suits, including armor schematics and the necessary details).

His Bat sense is going off about everything, more so than when Clark first picked him up from Gotham to inform him the Titans are in the fight of their lives because invading aliens managed to bypass the Watchtower’s systems.

He’d set the Batplane for follow them, already worried about how Red Robin would be holding up while Clark sped them as fast as possible to San Francisco, meeting up with the other JL members on the way.

None of them had to say how worried they were, it was evident, even if you weren’t the so-called World’s Greatest Detective.

But the nagging something tugging at his inner sense when Red shot his grapple without even a word to him is getting stronger, is making him worry a hell of a lot more than he was even an hour ago.

He feels out the obvious injuries, even with Red’s hand weakly shoving his away.

“No internal bleeding, nothing broken. This concussion is the bee’s knees thanks. A stop at the Tower to drop me off would be just—” and yes, B, that was one of their agreements. Back when he was still Robin, when someone actually gave a fuck. He almost comes out with that, but stutters to a halt because Batman gives no fucks about anything but flicking out a razor-sharp batarang and cutting the tunic right up the center, pulling away the dented, broken armor to get to the body suit and main bleeders underneath.

“Tim, I said I’m not taking you there. No one is going back for the moment, and you need medical treatment, these look serious.” B already has the gloves and gauntlets off, “Batcomputer,” he turns slightly and gets the acknowledging boop, “full body scan of Red Robin. Send results to Agent A.”

“N-No, no, not—” but his arms flop uselessly and the six-minute window has already passed him up. It’s fail time apparently.

Behind the whiteouts, B’s eyes narrow with this consistent fight. There’s something very wrong here, something wrong when his former Robin is fighting him tooth and nail when he’s half-loopy on blood loss and exertion. “Yes. There is no way in hell I’m leaving you in the Tower by yourself like this. Not going to happen, Tim. I am not going to let you bleed out all over your computers.”

And B shoves his cowl back to show those electric blue eyes, narrowed stubbornly when there’s my way or no way going down.

“Why,” he stutters when black replaces gray and his brain fuzzes more, starts shutting down because of the impending owfuck, “the hell does it matter? I’m not your fucking responsibility anymore, right?”

He tries to sneer, tries to move, tries to snarl and snap about why not a little bit of fuck-off for your day, but nothing is responding to command. Before he blacks out, though, he gets to see the look of utter shock on Batman’s face, and well, the small surge of satisfaction at getting the drop on the Dark Knight leads him to the way—

Out

**

“Septic shock?” Dick gasps, utterly dumbfounded.

“Yes, Master Dick,” Alfred carefully works, aproned and gloved, cleaning the last of the ragged, raw injuries before he would need to wrap them. The boy on the bed isn’t moving except for his chest rising and falling with slow, even breaths.

He does, however, press a button on the touchpad above the bed in the Cave’s medical area to show the outline of a human body with a glaring red circle.

“It seems Master Timothy is no longer in possession of the viscera necessary for fighting off infections.”

Bruce in only the body suit, Dick in sweats and t-shirt, and Damian without the domino all turn to Alfred.

And stare.

“You are saying he no longer has a spleen?” Dami verified, “and is thus more prone to illness?”

“That is precisely what the scans are showing, Master Damian, and I ran them several times to verify.”

The youngest Bat blinks once, blinks twice, and turns back to the unconscious form of Tim Drake lying still and silent. It was bad enough the four of them received a nasty shock while peeling the Red Robin body suit off to reveal a mass of still-healing welts, burns, and broken skin marring the span of Tim’s back (what the hell happened?) and the other injuries in the process of healing, injuries that look suspiciously like torture on his upper body, arms, and hands; not to mention how Alfred huffs angrily at the visible curve of ribs standing out against pale skin, but finding out he also lost, you know, a semi-crucial body part sometime since his last Bat-physical (hearing the date is the next shocker of the night) is pretty much the last straw.

“I’m going to do some research. Let me know if he comes to, Alfred.” B turns away with a snarl, the muscles in his back and shoulders tight.

“I shall, Master Bruce. However, I have no intention of tying him down to the bed frame. Should I be detained with dinner, please refrain from using cuffs.”

“I’m not making any promises,” Bruce snaps back, already in his chair at the Batcomputer to start digging into the last six months of Red Robin’s vigilante career and Tim Drake’s personal life.

Gingerly, Dick ruffles Damian’s hair and moves to sit on the medical bed by Tim’s hip, staring up at the closed eyes and slack features. He doesn’t process Alfred taping gauze down on the current injuries, but picks up a bruised and battered hand to hold in both of his while looking at a very obvious scar now that he knows some of what’s been going on in the time since Tim has been back to the Manor after the Robin mantle went to Dami.

(And Dick feels like a right bastard because he remembers coming up the stairs, thinking Tim might have been in his old room after their thing with Ra’s people before B had been found—when he thought Tim might have come to his senses and come home to be Red Robin here with them…and found Tim’s room empty. His things moved out, the shelves missing his usual array of books and video games, no clothes in the closets, no extra suits in the hidey holes, no shampoo in the shower or toothpaste on the sink. The Flash shower curtain is gone, replaced by a generic one in most of the other guest rooms. And just turning in circles, the hard weight in his chest, the utter pain when he realized Tim never meant to come back. He was already gone from the Cave where Alfred had patched him up, where Tim had told Dick specifically, “You’re my brother. I knew you’d catch me.”)

He sighs, shoulders rising with the move. He doesn’t say anything as Alfred continues to dress the injuries and Tim sleeps on.

It’s not very long before a sharp intake of breath from the computer draws their eyes, and B is typing furiously to get more information. Hacking into the Tower’s mainframe is child’s play, especially when he has Vic doing the hard work.

Tim’s ghost drive, however, is yielding more results than he anticipated.

The video file labeled Triad makes his stomach churn.

Dick leaves Tim to sleep off the drugs and antibiotics, for his fever to slowly come down under their ministrations. He grins a little at Damian asleep in the chair next to the medical bed and steps over to the computer where Bruce is looking grim, fists clenched tight on the control panel.

Dick almost asks, almost, until he catches the video playing—

And watches Tim Drake take a whip to the back while their former Robin is screaming.

“Oh…Oh my God,” he blinks, chest tight, nausea rising up when the footage skips and the next scene is Tim being held down by the arms and shoulders, the remains of his business suit ripped to give a span of bloody skin for the glowing hot iron bar to be set down.

He doesn’t know when he moved or when B got to his feet while the two of them try very hard not to be sick as Tim screamed over and over on the security footage.

They stand together, silenced by horror as the slideshow continues, as Tim is tortured over and over, as one of their own attempt to escape, gets to the control room and tries to get a communication out to the outside world.

By the time they have the full picture of how those marks got there and what Tim Drake had to go through, Bruce is deep in the Bat, anger radiating from every pore.

Tim was abducted outside Wayne Enterprises as his daytime persona, as Tim Drake, CEO, and none of them had known a damn thing about it.

**

It’s almost forty-eight hours later.

The Bats are in from patrol and upstairs to do human things, like sleep and eat and bathe (because the sewers of Gotham are nasty no matter how many times you’ve been down there—the sitch never gets any better). B has scrubbed down and changed in the Cave, making sure he was free of contaminants before coming over to check on his still-sleeping Robin. Hands accustomed to delivering pain are absurdly gentle when he lays a palm on the back of Tim’s neck, glad to see his temperature is finally getting back to normal, and checking the IVs as well as the bandages on Tim’s healing back and newer injuries on his side and knee. He ruffles the too-long hair gently before going up to check quickly on Alfred and the boys before planning on coming back down to stay close to Tim, hoping he might be stable enough to wake up and talk to them.

So the Cave is empty for the moment when the machines attached to the sensor clamped on Tim’s finger and the little sticky pads on his chest start to pick up slightly. Not enough to trigger an alert, just enough for him to blink open his bleary eyes riding the dredges of painkillers and sedatives.

It’s the Bat-cocktail of owfuck.

Really, he should have known better.

The fog is clearing out while his head flops on one side to look around and see where he’s—and what’s happ—how did—?

His head flops to the other side, eyes widening when he realizes the big car is parked a little past the curtain, and on the other side of him, the Batcomputer looks the same, but there’s a few more things on the control panel.

He gets the urge to violently hurl once the screeching overhead signals where he’s at just in case, you know, there might be any doubt.

The air in his chest chokes off, leaving him coughing hard for a few seconds, enough that the pulsox beeps once in warning and he struggles to get himself under control.

The haze of painkillers is still there, but nothing short of death is going to stop him. Instead, he uses the lead to pull the little machine close to him and manages to pop the casing off. A few wires and boom, he takes the sensor off his finger and the monitor keeps going. It takes maneuvering for him to sit up enough to reach the heart monitor and do pretty much the same.

There’s cameras everywhere, but he’s sure no one would be watching (because why would they?) as he stands on stiff, aching legs, manages to stumble a little before righting himself.

The knee isn’t going to get better anytime soon, so he’s good to be limping around because at least that means he’s on his feet.

The Red Robin suit they must have taken off of him is folded neatly on a workstation table, easy to pick up.

He feels immensely better with the body suit on (even if the pressure on still-healing injuries is about a bitch, damn); boots, gloves and gauntlets, harness and utility belt. It’s enough to rock.

A domino goes on while he nabs his somewhat stitched back together cape, but the armored tunic is totes a lost cause.

Bummer.

With the machines beeping steadily behind him, Tim leaves the tunic, makes his way further down into the Cave, favoring the leg, moves as straight-backed as possible to keep the marks on his back from pulling and getting sore all over again, as been the pattern in the last month since he’s been back from a certain little vacay.

(And it’s fucked how B probably saw those marks isn’t it? Just another check in the who gives a shit category…but, the old memorial case with Jason’s Robin suit is still there where it’s always been—and a double-take confirms it. His first Robin suit is in a new case next to it. Mother. Fucker does it makes his chest hurt.)

The line of just in case vehicles is in the same place it always was. A crappy beater for Matches Malone, a van for pick-ups, an Ambulance in case shit gets real. A covered car in the back corner that is terribly, achingly familiar, and his eyes skitter away from it, just like he did with the memorial cases.

Instead, he goes to one of the four Ducati’s serviced and ready to rock, lifts up the seat while balancing on his good leg. Keys fall into his palm, so score.

His hip only hitches slightly when he throws the bad leg over the bike so the good one can steady it, and the bruises tomorrow are going to be fucking beautiful.

But for the moment, all good. He’s sitting down at least, and flips the bike on, raises the bad leg to start the engine—

When Dami drops down from the ceiling vent and lands a few feet in front of him at a crouch.

No suit, no domino, but the pose is all Robin.

A Robin in his pjs, but then, well, there’s school and shit in the morning isn’t there?

“Drake,” a low, almost-question.

“Nice to see you too,” he smirks with old bitterness, just waiting for it.

Dami’s eyes go from the whiteouts to the bike and back up. “This…is not a favorable course of action,” is said more carefully than he can remember the Demon ever being.

“What now?” Because seriously, what now?

“You have been recovering from septic shock,” the youngest informs him, still in that crazy careful tone. “Among other injuries. It would be best if you stayed where you could be monitored should you relapse.”

Now he thinks he might be more loopy on the I’m fucked up cocktail than initially assessed. Things just aren’t…aren’t making sense here.

“I’m in a multiverse aren’t I?” Is a stupid but kind of valid question.

Damian, however, is not amused.

“You are a fool. This is not surprising. However, as I have been informed, your team stopped an alien invasion. That if nothing else would merit time, Drake.”

“Telepaths that want to take over our world are assholes. Haven’t you figured that out yet?” He comes back easily, “and I have a place to recoup. It would be nice to be on my way there right about now.”

The bad leg comes down, shooting a thrill of pain up, but fuck it. Really. He needs to get out of here before Jason Todd comes around to give him a bro fist or something else just as crazy.

The engine purrs to life against his thighs.

Again, it’s opposite day because that little brat is leaning against the handlebars, scowling and talking over the engine instead of doing things like, you know, moving.

“I would not do this if I were you.”

He blinks behind the whiteouts. “I don’t know what the fuck is going on here, but this is getting to creep-tastics proportions.” He leans over the handlebars as much as he can without some serious owfuck hitting, “you wanted me gone, Demon. Riff raff, remember? That cut zip line? You think I need a written invitation to get the fuck out?”

Dami’s eye widen a fraction before narrowing, the little asshole leaning in as well like they’re going to fight it out for some crazy reason because this is what they all wanted but were too chicken-shit to tell him.

“Dick’s too nice to say it, but you think he really has to after all this time?”

“Grayson—” Dami starts, voice raised to be heard over the purring engine.

“Never wanted me either. I guess you and Jason Todd were right all along. Want to gloat about it? How about you do it over Skype so I can get back to my life?”

Dami growls, baring his teeth in a snarl, “no, you fool. Grayson has missed you unbearably in the last two years. He has attempted to keep track of you while you searched for Father and then later when you re-joined the Titans. He is the one that built the case for your Robin suit.”

And just…what the ever-loving fuck?

“I am aware of how things were left when I began my own time as Robin, Drake. I am aware of—”

“Get off.” Because now he’s blinking behind the whiteout, his eyes getting hot and wet fast. “Get the fuck off.”

“No!” Damian snarls back, gripping the handlebars tighter, like he has every intention of holding on. “I refuse to let you leave like this!”

And so, apparently it’s time to spell it out. “No one gives a shit if I’m here or not.” He shoves himself standing, old, buried pain rearing up from the terrible place in his brain pan where he’d buried it all just so he could keep moving. “They let me inherit the cape because I was an asshole kid and found out their secret. They let me keep it because I did an alright job at keeping B from fucking himself up like Robin is supposed to do. And he took me in because my fucking father was murdered when my identity was compromised. It’s ‘adopt an orphan syndrome,’ Damian. That’s it. I fucking Get. It. Now.

Those eyes narrow, color rising to the younger vigilante’s face. But Tim leans down, blinking rapidly behind the whiteout because he’s not going to give him or any of them that fucking satisfaction.

His voice is low, almost angry if it didn’t crack, giving away more than he wants, especially to Damian. “Besides, why would they want the replacement when they’ve got the real son in the cape anyway, right? You said that, and you were right, weren’t you?”

“N-none of that—Drake…Timothy, you don’t honestly,” and the twelve year old almost looks his age for once, “you don’t honestly believe that.”

The corner of his mouth twitches up in a very unfunny smirk, “I’m a detective, Damian. I don’t believe anything until I have evidence.”

The younger Bat sputters a moment, looking oddly shell-shocked, but he doesn’t let go, refuses to give up, “evidence? Open your eyes, Drake. Father ordered the Justice League to attend your battle as soon as he knew, made Kent come to pick him up as he knew it would be the fastest way to get to you.”

“What part of aliens wasn’t clear? That is usually JL territory, we just happened to call dibs.”

Dami’s fists tighten around the handlebars, “I have been Robin for three years. Three years, Drake. If there is anything I have learned in that time, it is how Father would not leave any of his Robins behind. Not even you.”

Welp, that’s going to be a very hard eventual realization for the kid. But really, it isn’t any of his business anymore. None of this is.

He sinks back down slowly, painfully because it’s time to go. “Get out of the way.”

The hair on the back of his neck, however, cuts him off, makes his straighten up again on the bike and rev up the engine. Dami isn’t moving, but is just staring at him looking like he might pull out that wicked katanna for a little sliced n’ diced vigilante rather than deal with his shenanigans. Not like it’s nothing new.

But the ghost sensation has drawn the brat’s attention as well, those eyes drawn over Tim’s left shoulder.

Without turning to look, he gives the standard, “thanks for the pick-up. Let me know when you need the next batch of intel. We’ll have a crime-fighting party with confetti and everything.”

The hand on his bicep is something he hadn’t anticipated, startling him to look up at Bruce’s bare face and angry eyes.

Oh shit. Batman’s not a happy camper. Time to hit the dirt.

From his other side, Dick comes out of nowhere and reaches around him to turn the bike off and take the key out of the ignition.

Oh, so that’s how it is? After all the years he put into maintaining the bikes and cars just like everyone else

“Like I said,” he deadpans, trying very, very hard not to get pissed off at the snub, “thanks for the pick-up. I’ll get together whatever data you’re looking for when—”

“Get off the bike, Tim,” Bruce emphasizes the order with a tug to his arm.

“Seriously?” Well, there goes the best of intentions, “I’ll bring it back if this is a problem.”

“Not the point. Get the hell off the bike.”

He shoves himself to his feet, already planning on hitting up Kon in a quick text just to get a ride out of here as fast as fucking possible, itching to jerk his arm out of B’s hold (and dammit, he hates to do that now that Clark isn’t being an asshat extraordinaire). So he lets it ride for the moment since, well, he pretty much shouldn’t be here anyway, so the lecture is probably going to be fucking spectacular.

His hip hitches again when he swings his leg back over the bike, but it’s only slightly painful this time around. Nope, there’s more pain elsewhere that has nothing to do with skin and soft, fleshy bits.

He in no way is prepared for Bruce pulling his arm up and around those massive shoulders, bending down enough to be about Tim’s height. The limp isn’t as bad with B supporting him with an arm around his waist (under the worst of the older marks) and gripping the wrist, walking him right the fuck back into the depths of the Cave where Alfred is waiting with hands properly folded behind him.

“Ah, the patient is awake,” Alfred is calm, cool, and collected as per usual. “Perhaps a stronger dose of painkillers should have been in order.”

“Not necessary,” he fills in shortly, pulling away from Bruce as soon as possible, a passing glance off the machines he’d reconfigured. “Thanks for patching me up, Alfred.”

The butler sighs through his nose and it’s so painfully familiar. “Of course, Master Tim. If you would be so kind as to change clothing, the bandages will need to be checked again.”

He holds up a hand, “again, not necessary. I’m on my way out—”

Dick shoves sweats and a t-shirt in his chest, jaw clenched tight enough that a muscle is jumping there, and it’s fine, he gets it. Dick doesn’t want him there. He really doesn’t need this—

“I’m trying to be out of your hair,” he growls back at the former Batman and current Nightwing. “I didn’t ask to come here. Not my bad.”

If anything, Dick’s expression gets even angrier. Angry enough that the hands holding the clothes are trembling finely until Tim takes them just to get the older vigilante to step back.

“Drake,” and it’s really saying something when Damian is the one stepping between them, trying to keep, well, whatever peace distance can realistically bring. “This is difficult to believe, but there is a grave misunderstanding happening here.”

His eyebrows draw together, head tilted down to the youngest, but he wisely remains silent because there’s volumes he could say about that.

“Do you need assistance, Master Tim?” Alfred cuts in, trying to divert the brewing storm raging in Dick and Bruce’s expressions, “I should say some of your injuries must be rather painful at this juncture. Your back, for example—”

“I’ve got it. Thank-you.”

“Very good, Sir. Once you have changed, I have a delightful pot of coffee and breakfast—”

But those words make his head snap around, “coffee?”

Because yes. The answer is always yes.

Alfred hums knowingly, “indeed. I believe it is the Sumatra brand you seem to favor?”

And dammit. Just, dammit Alfred.

In reply, he limps back to pull the curtain closed in the sectioned-off medical area, flopping the sweats and t-shirt down on the gurney. Deep, cleansing breath, and he reverses order, taking off gloves and gauntlets, boots, utility belt and harness, cape and dom, leaving the body suit for last (since there’s the most owfuck of the day).

“Tim? You okay?” B’s voice is softer, floating over the partition, his silhouette against the curtain.

“I’m fine,” he taps on his wrist computer with one arm through the t-shirt. Getting the sweats on is painful but it’s whatever really, the knee isn’t going to get any better so no use whining about it.

Instead, he puts the wrist computer back on his forearm and comes out a la civvies, his too-long hair probably wrecked, but with a KO of approximately two days?

He shoves the curtain back, cracking his neck, and starting to move to intercept Alfred’s approach. “Bandages are clean, so I’m good. Thanks.”

The butler tisks and gently simply steers Master Tim back to the gurney, “I will need to check your levels as well as the injuries you are unable to see, Master Tim. You certainly cannot assess your back unless you’ve taken to perform feats of magic?”

The others approach, watching with grave faces as the butler allows a cup and saucer inside the medical area, an excuse to keep Tim’s hands busy so work can be done.

“My levels are f—” The smell hits like an aphrodisiac and his eyes fall half-mast just because coffee.

“Do not say ‘fine.’ For a young man without the necessary organ to build up proper immunities, then I would dare to say yes. However, for a crime-fighting vigilante, your white cell count is woefully deficient.”

Oh. So that’s what this is about?

Shit.

“I’ve had enough time to adjust.” Is all he bites out as the butler gloves up, winds a stethoscope around his neck.

When B’s hands plant on his hips like he is winding up for the mother of all lectures, and Damian puts a hand to Dick’s forearm to stop him from saying whatever might be ready to come out of his mouth, Tim realizes how much of a thing this might be.

The butler, however, just frowns, “then I will pose the obvious question, Master Tim. How many episodes of septic shock have you experienced before now?”

His jaw clenches, eyes close briefly because when he got off that fucking ship—

The pinch to his inner elbow jars him out of it (luckily) or he might still be smelling stagnant water and imagine the world rocking under his feet.

“Twice,” and he leaves it at that, going more pale at the bits flashing through his brain pan.

Alfred removes the syringe, tapes a cotton ball to the small wound. “Twice, Sir?” is quiet, neutral.

Tim swallows, looking at the span of wall instead of any of them, “yeah.”

“Once recently I’m afraid?” And Alfred sets the blood sample aside, easily moves a gloved hand to be under Master Tim’s still holding the delicate saucer. The minute clattering stops when he does.

“Yeah,” hoarse, but fuck yes.

“Your back, Tim?” now Alfred’s tone is moving into soothing, someone that can (used to be) be trusted.

Still staring at the wall, keeping himself together, Tim gives a short, pointed nod.

“What—” Dick steps a little closer to his side, not enough to set him off, but enough to reach out, slowly, easy, “who did that to you, Timmy?”

His shoulders tense with the contact, and he blinks hard, shaking himself out of it, shaking himself the fuck back to the present. He lifts the cup and takes a drink of utter heaven.

It helps to steady him, to keep his head out of the two weeks he spent being tortured as Tim Drake, CEO, and the more recent fight with dick bag aliens.

“I took care of it.”

“That doesn’t tell us anything,” Dick counters. “Timmy…you were tortured.”

And well, yes. Yes, he was.

“Yup,” is his soft admission, staring down into the depths of his coffee while Alfred moves around behind him and the shirt inches up his spine, making his hackles rise just slightly. “I was.”

And he knows, he knows, Alfred was trying to be careful, wasn’t trying to do anything, but the wounds, the memories, all of it was still so new and raw, that when the touch hits the wrong spot, reminds him of a burning iron bar pressed against his shoulders, he chokes and moves without thinking.

The cup and saucer crash to the floor, and he is up, moving away, spinning in mid-air, landing at a crouch with his leg and back screaming, his eyes wide, hand automatically poised in a nerve strike. And he can fight, he can fight, and he can win. He can save them this time, save them all, and he can—

He can, he will.

Whizzing and moving, focused on not throwing up, focused on not stopping.

Bruce is gripping his face between those massive palms from one blink to the next, and Tim realizes he must have been moving again because they aren’t standing by the medical area anymore.

Instead, he’s pinned down on one of the big mats used for practice and training half-way across the Cave, the vinyl soft and worn-in under the arm Bruce has pinned at the wrist. His back is fucking agony because he’s laying down on the healing injuries. Worse, he’s shaking like fuck, the coffee in his stomach rolling with it.

“Tim! You need to stop. Just. Stop.”

But it’s just as bad because he can’t be held down.

That…he’s not good with that, and his hips take over regardless of owfuck, bucking up enough to get Bruce off him so he can turn over, land on all fours and gag.

“Fuck…fuck…fuck…fuck…”

He gets a million vigilante points for not throwing up his coffee.

A. Million.

Plopping down on his ass to try getting air back into his lungs, however, is seriously the best idea for the moment even if he’s shaky as fuck and probably embarrassed the shit out of himself.

(Regretting letting him back in now, aren’t you?)

Dick kneels in plain sight, ducking down to catch Tim’s rapidly blinking eyes. “Hey, just me,” is meant to be soft and soothing.

It’s not.

Instead, Tim closes his eyes again it and tries to calm himself but his brain is too fuzzy, still half-stuck on the ship, in the mind trap, in his team’s memories—

“…something for me, Tim. Let me know you’re with us.”

He doesn’t open his eyes so he can’t see whatever expression is on those faces.

“Should have just…dropped me at the goddamned Tower,” he manages hoarsely, bringing his knees up to hold his heavy head.

Bruce, refusing to be diverted, gets close enough to wrap his long fingers around Tim’s ankle slowly, carefully. “No,” he claims slowly, mind working furiously at the flow of new and disturbing information, “no, Tim. I’m glad, very glad, I brought you home.”

The laugh coming out of Tim’s bent head is half-way to a sob (home? There hasn’t been a home in a while actually), and Bruce’s hand moves up to grip into a calf instead, sliding subtly closer on his knees.

Dick paces right beside him, being absurdly careful, recognizing the reactions, the instincts Bruce bred into all his Robins to fight when you’re out of all other options. It’s knee-jerk reaction to any situation.

“You blanked out for a few minutes there, Timmy. It looked like,” he hesitates slightly from saying it even if he has plenty of experience dealing with this kind of thing, “you were having a flashback.”

“I don’t talk about it,” is the hoarse reply, the horrible panting sounds finally easing down.

“I think we’re going to try checking over your injuries again,” Dick gingerly touches a few fingers to Tim’s limp hand, “without trying to set you off, okay? We’ll…Timmy, we’ll be right here with you.” His finger firm a little, squeeze Tim’s fingers before the hand jerks out of his hold, the leg moving away from Bruce.

Tim scrambles backwards on the mat, shoves to his feet because ignoring pain is something he does like a boss, but pity? Oh, he gets all kinds of pissed off about it.

Just ask Kon. The impressive choke hold is something the super is probably never going to forget.

“I don’t need checked over. I don’t need anything other than a way to get back to my damn Tower—” and the fuck away from here is implied.

Because really. They can stop this mound of variable bullshit anytime now.

“I don’t need whatever in the hell this,” and his hands flutter around for a second, “this shit is all of a sudden. I lead my damn team, and it doesn’t effect how I work. How I’ve worked for the last few years. I’m. Fucking. Good.”

Bruce’s mouth flattens into a grim line, staring at his third Robin, the son that took his name without qualm, the son he’d let get too far the fuck away because he felt like he didn’t belong in his own home. And Dick might share the burden of that, the younger vigilante nearly radiating beside him facing Tim down, ready to stop him if he tries to bolt.

And Bruce doesn’t feel bad about Damian and Alfred slowly coming up behind Tim to box him in, takes a moment to berate himself for thinking he was doing the right thing in giving Tim the space he thought the former Robin needed to heal. The same space Dick needed when he had to move on from the Robin mantle.

But he’d inadvertently caused both his former Robins nothing but pain by giving them the space to throw their bodies into the Mission to try and escape the devastation, the loss.

It’s another black mark under his name, but if anything, Bruce, the Bat, has no qualms rectifying his mistakes.

And he’s perfectly fine starting now.

“Tim,” interrupts the snarling commentary on how Red Robin isn’t fucking anything up (which is unnecessary because Bruce already knows it), and makes the injured bird abruptly pause. “Let me get this straight.”

The third Robin stops, seems to mentally re-set, like when they started up a new case and the personal lives had to be left in the Cave before they got into the big car for the upcoming night. It’s enough of the old Tim that Bruce takes a few cautions steps, holding up fingers to tick off so he’s got Tim’s attention on the visual.

“You were kidnapped as your daytime persona, as Tim Drake, not Red Robin—”

Oh shit. Well, World’s Greatest Detective. Of course he’d find out. It happened in his city.

“—they tortured you on a ship in the middle of the ocean. You escaped, brought them down, and turned them in to several branches of authorities. Four days ago, you showed up as Red Robin when the Insurgents hit Earth’s atmosphere. You went into a fight with your team against a psychic horde without calling for back-up. And you won. All right so far?”

“Sounds…about right.”

Bruce hums, nods, “and…why do you think I would questioning how effective you are as a vigilante?”

Wait.

Tim’s mouth works but nothing comes out because, well, point.

“I have no idea why you’re trying to convince me when I’m already well aware how incredible you are in the field. I don’t need any other justifications. What I need to know,” and Bruce unfolds his arms, hands loose at his sides, trying to look less intimidating so Tim’s hackles won’t rise again, “is when your spleen was removed and what criminal caused it. What I want to know is if you’ve seen anyone to help you through the trauma you went through on that ship. What I want to know is why you keep telling me you’re fine and you handle it when you are obviously not fine. No one, Tim, no one could be after all that.”

And the younger vigilante stares up at him, taller than the last time Bruce had a chance to really see him, with narrow eyes that are already calculating his next moves. B knows it because he sees Tim’s eyes slide to Alfred and Damian, slide over to Dick before coming back to him. It’s saying something when the Bat is hovering at the fore of his mind, ready for another mad attack if Tim flips back into those flashbacks and starts fighting by instinct.

“What I need to know is,” B counters softly, “why you didn’t come home when you needed to.”

When Tim stays silent, when his beaten, battered body gets as straight as it can, Bruce sees enough, knows enough.

He nods slowly, like he gets it, whatever silent message Tim is putting out, and returns that intense look, sees so much hidden under the exterior that he should have picked up long before this very moment.

“You three go upstairs. Have some downtime,” he waves a shooing hand at Dick, Damian, and Alfred, “Tim didn’t get his coffee, and I honestly don’t need any more caffeine induced contingencies on my hands.”

Bruce—” is Dick’s desperate attempt to stay because now he knows how much of this, how much of it is right on his head.

“Dick. Go have some downtime.”

Dami isn’t happy, is looking with his head tilted up, those dark eyes all for the scowl on Tim’s face, the sneer.

Alfred, however, steps between them, Master Timothy and Master Bruce to break the stare down and lift a fresh cup and saucer into the younger vigilante’s hand. It breaks the oldest man’s heart when Master Tim…hesitates.

But the hands are steady when the coffee is taken, and the young Master is looking carefully away from the butler, a muscle in his jaw flickering.

“Thank-you,” is said softer than the rest.

“What else could I do, Master Tim? My life is dedicated to caring for my family, and that includes you.” A small pat to the younger man’s head while the angry, defensive expression falls to wide-eyed and slack, like the younger Master is genuinely surprised. The saucer is held tighter in busted fingers when Timothy’s spine snaps straighter and he blinks rapidly, trying to harden himself, pull his strength around him like a cloak so none of them can see what abject pain he is in—how he obviously was very certain he no longer belonged here, with them all.

“Oh Tim,” the butler sighs sadly, gently, “this may be untoward, so forgive me, but it is so nice to see you. As much as we have missed, as much as you have suffered and succeeded, I am still so happy to have you home.”

The reaction is those wide eyes, the true tell to Master Timothy’s thoughts returning to his face and immediately seeking out any deception on the butler’s part, any lies or placations, any shred of evidence to support his previous theories.

Alfred smiles, just a small curve of his lower lip, when the younger man’s shoulders lose a small bit of tension, just enough to prove he found no lies here. When he can have just a hint of belief. It’s just enough for Alfred to fit a hand on the younger man’s shoulder and squeeze with infinite gentleness before he’s herding two of his other charges up into the Manor, casting a glance back at the long line of Master Bruce’s tense back before he and Master Dick exchange a very concerned look.

**

And they leave Tim and Bruce in the Cave with the fluttering of bats, the gentle hum of working equipment, with damaged suits, and healing bodies, with injuries and trauma.

It’s such a painful thing for Bruce, staring at Tim and remembering a younger kid standing in the same place with the R over his heart, the suit of his Robin and that crazy, wide grin in anticipation for nightfall when they could move together.

When Tim’s team was Batman and Robin.

“None of this is necessary,” and it’s Red Robin’s voice, unshakeable and reliable. A leader. A vigilante.

And not the person Bruce wants to talk to right at this moment.

“I’m sorry,” Bruce cuts off that train of thought, seeing past the denials and old pain, seeing past everything Tim is spitting out, the abject hurt, the theory that maybe, maybe they’d just been-been using him all this time. That he was just a kid in a cape or something just as ridiculous. “I’m sorry it got this far. I’m sorry none of us, me or Dick or Alfred jumped in to remind you that you will always have a home here, no matter what.  There’s no excuse for it, Tim, absolutely none.”

The younger vigilante frowns harder, his thought processes obvious to the World’s Greatest Detective.

“Once Damian and I could realistically work together, Dick left out of Gotham to trail the Titans and see if he could at least talk to you, but the team was moving fast, so he wanted to wait until you were in town again. But, regardless, we let this go on for too long, letting you get further and further away without checking in, without coming back.”

“I didn’t need to.” Tim interjects, firming his jaw, still staying as far inside the mask as he possibly can, trying to protect himself.

And Bruce finally sees it.

“And you don’t have to do this,” the younger vigilante puts the cup and saucer down immediately, eyes never losing that hard edge, “at all. It’s not necessary at this point. I’m still going to be the intel guy, the IT solution. I’ll still come when you call just like I’ve always done.”

“That’s not good enough.” Bruce insists back, arms loose by his sides, “it was never supposed to be needed over wanted, and it isn’t like that. You won’t believe me until you have evidence, I know already, but Tim,” and Bruce comes up on him, not the stalk of the Bat or the stride of the daytime persona, it’s all Bruce Wayne—

Dad.

He’s careful but firm, hands tilting his son’s face up a little, taking in the widening eyes of surprise, “Tim, you are always, will always be one of my sons. Just like Dick and Jason and Damian. That’s what you agreed to when you took on the mask. You became mine and the Batman’s, our Robin, our partner, our son, and yes, yes this is necessary. It’s completely and totally necessary because along the way the important things got pushed to the wayside, and it’s so far from fine that I can’t even begin to list the problems here.”

And the younger vigilante has the most probable reaction Bruce can predict.

He fights.

“Bullshit,” is hoarse, angry when Tim shoves away, steps back, “and I don’t need bullshit, Bruce. You think I don’t get it? I was the kid that figured out your secret, you had to keep me, to keep me quiet about it. So of fucking course you’d let me wear the R. What would I have done if you hadn’t? Just because I got good at it doesn’t mean I don’t fucking recognize how it never should have been me. It should have been Jason and then Damian. It should have been blood, not some fucking kid you never wanted.”

And God it hurts, these things tearing out him like fucking poison, like rancid bile he can finally vomit up, to get out of him.

“And you did good. You did great, Bruce, dealing with me. You really did. You did the best you could under the circumstances,” and fuck, yes, he means it because Bruce was there for him when he was Robin, when Dad died, when his world was going to shit time and time again. Bruce put up with his crap more than anyone in his entire life—even his real Dad. “I appreciate it, all the shit from back then. You don’t—” and his chest hitches, but he grinds his teeth, straightens his back for it, “you don’t even know how much I needed you. How much I respect you, how much I wanted to be your partner and friend, and you gave me that, Bruce. You did that for me, but…but your real son has the cape now, just like it always should have been, and I understand that. This,” and his hands waffle back-and-forth while he looks away, tries to choke down the bitterness all these realizations still leave behind, “this is the way it should have happened. This is—” not okay, never fine, not really, “how it should be.”

But when he looks back, chances a glance, he jerks a little because Bruce’s expression is—

(Is there some fear toxin somewhere? What the hell?)

The hands at Bruce’s sides are clenching into tight fists, his forearms cording, muscles getting tight.

“How long have you felt like this?” The oldest vigilante demands in a low, dangerous voice, “how long do you think I’ve just been tolerating you? How could you even— Jesus, Tim.”

But really, he’s the detective, right? “I forced my way in,” he deadpans, “you never chose me, Bruce.”

And even though he’s come a long way from that Robin to now, he’s still not fast enough to dodge Batman.

Nope. That’s not happening.

Because Bruce is across the span separating them in a skiff of shadows, literally picking him up off his feet with an arm around his waist below the healing whip marks, the other hand buried in the hair at the back of his head, pushing his face into Bruce’s neck and shoulder (and he’s shaking, Bruce, Batman, the unstoppable, the indomitable, is shaking).

The move is so out of what he expected, so unpredictable, Tim’s eyes are wide, just blinking wetly, hands up to automatically brace himself on Bruce’s biceps.

“In…in the beginning, I was terrified of you,” Bruce blinks back his own wet eyes against the side of Tim’s too-long hair, “I was so scared of getting another innocent kid hurt, and you were…you were so smart and so brave. You were fearless, Tim. You were perfect for the job, but if I got you hurt, if I got you killed, if this world lost everything you are because of me and my Mission… then there would be no redemption. And I—” and Bruce grips him tighter, breathes in slowly, presses the side of his face into Tim’s hair harder, “I couldn’t lose you too. I couldn’t lose you, Tim.”

And that. To hear that it wasn’t because of Jason Todd, to hear that he was valued back then for himself, has Tim’s heart give a painful throb in his chest, makes him hold on to Bruce like he was still that Robin.

“In the beginning, I didn’t want another kid in danger. I didn’t want another person’s life in my hands, I didn’t want anyone else to suffer because of my choice to do this, to be Batman, to be the crime fighter Gotham needed. So…so you-you were partially right. Back then, I didn’t want you involved. When you helped solve Dick’s case and-and you gave me no choice, Tim. You proved to me you were everything I needed Robin to be, everything Dick was, everything Jason was, everything Damian is learning to be. There was no way I could let you go.”

And God, to hear that, just to hear that from Bruce.

It’s more than he ever expected.

“You’re more than just a kid in a cape. You always were. You were always the kid I needed, the kid that grounded me, the kid that was so much like me that you should have been a Wayne from the get-go. Just like Dick and Jason. You taught me just as much as I taught you, and even though I never wanted to overstep my boundaries, I never wanted to try and take your Dad away from you because—” and Bruce has to pause, has to let his eyes spill over because back then? Back then when Jack was an ass, was a damn terrible father, Bruce still couldn’t fight him because, “—because if mine had lived, even if he couldn’t understand me and what I grew into…I still would have at least had him.”

And Tim bites down on his lip hard enough to draw blood, but it doesn’t stop his eyes from spilling over too, from his arms moving to wrap around Bruce’s shoulders and hold the fuck on.

“But,” Bruce breathes in, rolls his eyes upward to try and calm down, “but when you still lost him, I…There was no question, Tim. There never was. You were my son just as much as his, and there was never a question as to where you belonged, that you have a home here. Not-not a room, not a cot in the Cave, not a locker for your gear. Your home, Tim. And I…I thought I was helping, letting you be the vigilante you needed to be. When you brought me back and it was Damian in the R, I… I understood why, but I still missed you. I was still…upset with Dick, doing that without telling you, without giving you an opportunity to have your say. I was trying to give you time to stop hurting, to grow from it. I was trying not to push you too hard, to make it hurt worse.”

Gentle movement, Bruce walking carefully toward the medical gurney still carrying Tim without even straining, still holding him close, still so painfully angry at himself for how long these things must have been buried in Tim’s psyche, how all of it must have pushed this young man to his breaking point.

“And I…” Bruce closes his eyes briefly as it hitches, “and I failed you, Tim. I’m so sorry that I failed you as your Dad. I’m sorry you ever thought I only wanted to keep you from telling my secret because it was never about that.”

But Tim, hanging there, limply, pain a dull red throb in his brain pain, gripping Bruce around the shoulders tight, hides his face away from the realizations, from the things he never imagined.

Bruce folds himself down and rocks just slightly, comforting them both a little with the motion, “and you’re not going to believe all this. Not for a while. I know you, young man, and you’re going to need time to believe in me again, to believe in the family, and that’s-that’s okay. That’s completely understandable. I’ll give you as much time as you need, but goddammit, Tim, I’m not letting you get that far out of my sight again. I’m not ever going to let you go. Whether you like it or not, you’re stuck with us, kid.”

He doesn’t laugh or chuckle, still in a state of shock since he really didn’t imagine this in his future, or well ever.

After all this time, all the bad guys and terrible night, all the sacrifices and job well dones, he’d pretty much figured it was really…over.

This is a whole lot of unexpected that his brain pan can’t handle all at once. He needs time to think about it, to review the evidence.

“Give me a chance, Tim,” is breathed gently against his ear, “don’t give up on me yet. Please, don’t give up on me.”

“You’re an idiot,” he finds himself saying back with a scratchy throat, “I didn’t give up on you when the world thought you were dead. Like I’m going to start now?”

And Bruce, B, the Batman, just breathes out in the quiet dim of the Cave, holds this almost nineteen-year-old on his lap like he used to do to Dick when the kid was on overload or he’s finally gotten Damian to just deal with it.

“When I really believe you mean that, I’ll let you go back to Titan’s Tower.”

That does earn a snicker because really, Bruce?

“Can you just—” and the World’s Greatest Detective hesitates for a second, not sure how hard he wants to push when there’s been some progress made tonight.

“…you want to know about the spleen thing, don’t you?”

Bruce pats the uninjured leg a little and nods with Tim’s head tucked under his chin.

Closing his eyes, Tim sighs out through his nose.