Tim is a good kid. At least, he thinks he is. His dad is always telling him that, and so are all his teachers. Tim likes to think he isn't the kind of kid to break the rules or cause trouble. The Robin thing aside.
Which is why it's totally ridiculous that Bruce is always all over him, wanting to know where he is when he's out alone, making him check in, all of that. Tim almost never does anything Bruce would object to, anyway.
Tonight they're getting ready to go out and Bruce is lecturing Tim again, as if Tim isn't an incredibly careful person.
“They’re dangerous, Robin,” Bruce--Batman--says. “They aren’t afraid of me, and they won’t be afraid of hurting you. So keep your eyes open and be in touch.”
They’re not even the scariest people, just two-bit mobsters with barely any territory. Tim is pretty sure they are afraid of Batman.
"I know," Tim--Robin--says steadily. "And I will." Since the lecture is kind of wearing on him tonight, he adds, "I know what I'm doing."
“You’re new at this,” says Batman. “And even the most experienced person can slip up.”
Robin doesn't feel like four months is that new, and he's been watching Batman for longer. But he also knows there were two Robins and now there aren't any, so maybe Batman is paranoid for a reason. Even if what happened to the first one isn't that scary.
"I'll stay in touch," Robin says, because he isgood. "Are you expecting this to go wrong?"
“I always expect the possibility,” says Batman. Then the grim expression below the cowl tilts up into a smile. “But no. We’re prepared, and you’re capable.”
Robin glows. We. They're a team, and Batman trusts him. "Yeah, I am," he says evenly. "Ready?"
They’re going to deal with a hostage situation--for some reason, the police can’t get involved directly. Tim thinks it’s because they’re not discreet enough, but Bruce won’t give him a straight answer. But Batman and Robin are quick and quiet and don’t go by the same rules as law enforcement. This is what they’re good at.
When they arrive at the warehouse where the hostage is being kept, there’s a lot of noise coming from inside. Robin sees Batman stiffen.
"Something's wrong," Robin says quietly. "Do you think the cops--?" But no, there aren't any cars or sirens.
“Get closer,” says Batman. “But don’t go inside until I say so.”
"Got it," Robin whispers. He slips around behind the warehouse, and the thing is, the back door isn't locked. Robin knows because he checked.
"Batman," he whispers into his radio.
“What do you see?” Batman asks.
"The door's unlocked. I'm just going to open it a crack and see--"
“Be ready to make a break for it,” Batman says. “No more than a look, Robin. I mean it.”
"Got it," Robin says again. He turns his radio off and slowly opens the door, just enough to look inside.
The scene is chaos. There are mobsters shouting, a few sprawled unconscious on the ground, several mobbing a central point. Robin doesn’t know why, until a fist emerges from the pile-on and knocks a guy out. Then the rest of the puncher appears, climbing out of the mess swinging and kicking like a small tornado.
He’s wearing a leather jacket, a red hoodie, and a mask. His boots look steel-toed, and from the sounds his victims are making, they are. The attacker is around Tim’s height, but he’s stockier, and moves like a street fighter. Robin has seen enough of those at this point to know what that looks like.
Robin knows he's supposed to shut the door, but how can he? This is someone else fighting crime in Batman's city. He's been paying attention long enough to know that that doesn't happen. And this person is just out here doing it like nobody can stop him! Robin grips the edge of the door and watches, hoping the stranger doesn't start losing.
He doesn’t lose. What he does is catch sight of Robin at the doorway, say, “Oh shit!” and duck a punch to the head.
Robin jerks back out of sight, but it's too late. If he's been seen, he essentially has to stay and find out about this new mask. Batman will appreciate it.
“If you’re already here you might as well help!” the stranger hollers. He has a Gotham accent, the kind Tim doesn’t have even though he’s Gotham born and raised. He honestly doesn’t seem to need that much help.
But helping is Robin's job. Even if Batman doesn't want people fighting crime in his territory, there's nothing wrong with hitting mobsters. Robin justifies all of this really fast in his head and then throws himself into the room and the fight.
He doesn’t expect the stranger to laugh, but he does—almost like he’s excited.
The two of them don’t say anything for a minute, and then the fight is over. It’s just them and a pile of headaches waiting to happen and three hostages whimpering through their gags.
“So,” says the stranger, “are you—?”
"Robin," Robin says, instead of making a smart remark. He's really proud of being Robin, so he's going to own it.
“Yeah,” he says slowly. “I thought so.” He opens his mouth like he plans to say something more, but that’s when Batman comes bursting in from the other side of the building.
“Robin!” he says urgently.
“Shit on a stick,” says the stranger. “Time to go!” He busts out of there like Killer Croc slamming through a wall.
"Wait--" Robin says, but if he were in the stranger's place, he'd take off too. He turns to Batman. "I don't know who that was," he says, "but he took care of all these mobsters."
Batman scowls beneath his cowl. “Red Hood,” he says. “And you don’t need to know him.”
"He took them by himself," Robin says. He's thinking about Red Hood's laugh. "Well, mostly. I think he could have."
“Maybe so,” Batman says. “But he shouldn’t have been here. Neither should you.” One of the gangsters groans. Batman goes to untie the hostages.
Robin knows better than to argue in front of criminals, so he bites his tongue, but he really wants to explain himself. It just happened really fast. And Red Hood was such a force.
It takes awhile to take care of business, and Batman is more than usually quiet on their way back to the manor. As he pulls off the cowl, though, Tim can see his uncomfortable expression—a grimace that won’t quite meet Tim’s eyes.
“Red Hood isn’t one of us,” he says. “I don’t know what you saw, but don’t make the mistake of thinking he’s on your side.”
"But he's doing the work we're doing," Tim says carefully. Maybe there's something he doesn't know, but that just means it's a mystery he has to solve. And Red Hood can't be much older than him, which makes it even more mysterious.
“He may not like the Maronis but that doesn’t mean he’s doing our work,” says Bruce. “Leave it, Tim. And next time, don’t go into a brawl without warning.”
"He was fighting our enemies and he needed help," Tim presses. Not true, but close enough. "If I'm not supposed to help him, can you at least tell me why?"
“The only alliances he has are to himself and half the villains in Arkham,” Bruce says harshly. It takes Tim aback. “Drop it, Tim.”
Tim's willing to drop it, but only because he clearly isn't getting answers this way. Who knocks out mobsters and helps out costumed criminals? He knows it's time to shut up, but he has to check. "Is he one of them?"
Bruce, just for a half second, freezes on his way to hanging up the cowl. Then he starts moving again.
“Call it what you want,” he says.
"Okay," Tim says. "Just--Sorry, but what do I do if I run into him again?" None of this makes sense, and Bruce probably should have briefed him in advance.
“Stop him,” Bruce says vaguely, and then, “I’m going to get some sleep. Do you need help getting home?”
"No," Tim says. He'll probably go home as Robin, just to be safe, and then change a few blocks away. The city can get sketchy at night if you're not a superhero.
“All right,” Bruce says. “Take care, Tim. I’ll see you tomorrow.” His voice loses some of its steeliness on the last few words. It’s easy to work out that it’s not Tim that Bruce is mad at. So the question lingers: who is Red Hood?
Tim spends the next day or so not thinking about Red Hood. The day after that, he decides to Google him. There isn't a lot. It looks like he showed up less than a year ago, and he mostly beats up mobsters and other criminals. Notably, as Bruce said, he mostly doesn't beat up the ones in costume. It's a weird line to draw. Bruce should be more curious about it, unless, of course, he always knows something he's not telling Tim.
But if there's one thing Tim has learned, it's that when Bruce has made up his mind to keep a secret, he's impossible to crack. Tim had to find out the Batman secret on his own, after all. Anyway, it'll be a waste of time and make Bruce mad if he asks about Red Hood, so instead Tim texts Dick to meet up and hang out.
Dick texts back after a long minute.
Aren’t you in bed? he asks. Do I need to have a conversation?
This is kind of a joke, because Dick never talks to Bruce, and Dick respects Tim.
Teacher workshop day tomorrow, I'm off, Tim texts back. Can we get a cheeseburger? He's only hung out with Dick a couple of times, mostly in the context of Dick helping Oracle (never Batman) with missions, but Tim already feels comfortable with him. He just radiates niceness. Niceness and anxiety. Tim can relate to the second part.
Tomorrow? Dick says. On teacher workshpo day?
Tim isn't the kind of kid to make a comment about Dick being old,so he doesn't. He just texts Dick the address and the time. Then he stays up getting all his homework done for the day after tomorrow, so he can go out with Batman as much as he needs to.
Tomorrow he gets dressed in a puffy vest (it's still cold out, even for March) and goes to The Burger Place, right on time.
Dick arrives a couple minutes later. He spots Tim, waves, and orders at the counter. When he sits down across from Tim, he looks a little tired but like he’s in a good mood.
“Hey, kid,” he says. “How’s life treating you?”
"Okay," Tim says. "School's good." School is always good. He's just not as focused on it as he could be. "Other stuff is...weird." Thankfully it's early enough that the restaurant is empty.
“Weird how?” Dick says, glancing around. He sucks up some soda through his straw and eyes Tim with a frown. That’s to be expected. He always gets defensive around Batman stuff.
"We don't have to talk about it if you don't want," Tim says. They're definitely going to talk about it. "But something happened when we were out the other night."
Dick raises an eyebrow for Tim to go on.
"I ran into Red Hood," Tim says. "Have you heard of him?"
Dick looks instantly guilty. “I’ve encountered him, yes,” he says.
"So…? What?" Tim doesn't say "What the hell?" but he thinks it.
“So he’s something of a vigilante,” says Dick. “Well, no. He is a vigilante.”
Tim plays with the straw on his soda. "Yeah. I'd never say this to Bruce, but what exactly puts him in that category and us in another one? I'm just trying to figure this out, because he’s fighting the same people we are." Except for the costumed criminals. That's a weird riddle that Tim can't wrap his brain around.
Dick grimaces. “The context is a little different,” he says.
Tim nods. "Yeah. I thought it might be, but Bruce just totally shut down when I asked." Which means Tim shouldn't be here talking to Dick. But Dick won't tell Bruce. As far as Tim can tell, they don't talk at all. Another riddle.
“He has come complicated feelings about the issue,” Dick says unhelpfully.
All of Bruce's feelings are complicated. Tim feels like he understands him, and then something happens. "Is this from back when you worked with him?" Tim asks. That's the one thing he does know about Dick and Bruce.
“No,” Dick says reluctantly. “Red Hood hasn’t been around that long. You probably noticed.”
Tim has noticed. He's done his research. But trying to pry Dick open like a clam isn't working. "Yeah. He's my age," he says. "I think."
Dick doesn’t answer that directly. He says, “Listen, Tim, Red Hood isn’t playing on our team. I know he fights the ‘bad guys.’ But he’ll fight us, if he thinks he has to.”
Tim isn't so sure. "I helped him take out some of Maroni's men," he says. "We were a pretty good team." He shuts up as their food arrives.
When they’re alone again, Dick says, “Oh, no.”
"Oh no what?" Tim asks, starting to disassemble his burger so he can make sure the toppings are evenly distributed.
“Don’t get attached,” Dick says. “Please? Bruce will--” He shuts his mouth on an onion ring.
"Bruce will what?" Tim says. Because if he's not attached, he's at least interested, and he'd like to identify the stakes.
“He’ll be upset,” says Dick. “Which doesn’t matter to me, but I think it matters to you.”
It does. It matters a lot. Almost enough to make Tim stop asking questions right there, but not quite.
"So Bruce just doesn't like that he's interfering and not doing it the way Bruce wants," Tim says. He doesn't think that's really it, but a wrong answer might get more out of Dick.
“Listen,” Dick says, “I’m sure you can figure this out on your own. You and Bruce have your brains in common. But I feel like I already know you well enough to say that if you keep digging, you’ll keep going until you dig yourself out of his life just like the rest of us.”
That thought is scary enough to slow Tim down. He picks at his burger. "Hey," he says after a minute. "Can I ask why you and Bruce don't talk?"
Dick glances around again. “You can ask,” he says.
"You don't have to tell me," Tim says, but he makes eye contact, which he's found really effective in making people tell him things.
Dick mutters, “Fine. The Joker.”
Tim frowns. "What?" The Joker has been gone for what must be close to a year. What did Dick do that Bruce is mad about?
“You won’t like this,” Dick says. “So, it’s okay if you stop talking to me too.” He says it like it’s not so okay.
"I'm not going to stop talking to you," Tim says quickly. He doesn't want Dick to freak out or leave. He wants Dick to be in control of the situation.
Dick sighs and eats an onion ring halfheartedly and when that doesn’t end the conversation, he says extremely quietly, “I shot him.”
Tim lets this sink in. He didn't know anybody shot the Joker. He just knew he was suddenly gone. It one hundred percent makes sense why Bruce hates Dick, because killing is against Bruce's rules. But Tim also knows way too much about what the Joker has done in Gotham.
"Got it," he says, proud of how calm he sounds.
Dick’s eyebrows shoot up, and he laughs. “Are you kidding?” he says. “Well, okay then.”
"Well," Tim says, giving Dick a little smile, "Barbara still likes you, so you must be okay." He takes a bite of his burger. It's so good.
“In my defense,” says Dick, “things would have gone a lot worse if I hadn’t done it. It’s not something I—I don’t just go around doing that!”
"I know," Tim says. "I mean, I guessed that. What happened?"
“He found out about Bruce,” says Dick. “And he was killing someone I care about.”
"Shit," Tim says quietly. He doesn't swear a lot, but it just comes out. Then his brain catches up and he says, "Wait a minute, and Bruce was still mad? Does he know all that?"
Dick laughs. It’s mirthless. Dick is always mirthless when it comes to Bruce.
“Oh, he knew,” he says. “But enough of that. How’s school? How’s your dad?”
Tim lets the conversation shift. "Good and good. Mostly. My dad's been pretty...protective lately." Tim doesn't say over-protective, because it's not like his dad's wrong about him sneaking out and doing dangerous things at night.
“Tricky,” says Dick. “You’re all right?”
"Probably," Tim says. "I'm pretty sneaky. Did--? Anyway, I'm okay." He'd been going to ask about whether the other Robins had had families, but he finds that he doesn't want to bring that up. The less he knows about them the better seems to be Bruce's attitude, and Tim is fine with that for now.
Dick says, “I’m glad. You like the job?”
"I love it," Tim says. "I can't really imagine what I was doing four months ago."
Dick is quiet for a minute. He says, “I know I’ve said this before, but just...be careful.”
Something about the way Dick comes off always makes Tim a little sad for him. "I'm careful," he says. He is. He's not impulsive, and he plans everything. It's just that there's a limit on how careful you can be, doing what they do.
“I know what you’re like,” Dick says. “So I know that you are.”
"I know careful isn't always enough," Tim says. "But I'll stay away from Red Hood, if that helps."
Dick looks instantly relieved. “Oh, good,” he says. “It’s really for the best.”
Glad to have done his job for the day, which was to get through this without making Dick too unhappy, Tim smiles at him and goes back to focusing on his burger. He'll stay away from Red Hood. He just can't guarantee that they won't meet anyway.
Tim keeps his promise. But his promise doesn't include the internet, so he spends the next two and a half weeks looking up Red Hood on YouTube. There are only three shaky videos, but they're fascinating. His fighting style isn't like anything Tim has seen from the other costumed criminals. If that's even what he is.
Speaking of costumed criminals, today Tim is fighting the Riddler, who doesn't have a fighting style at all. He sets traps, but Tim is good at riddles, and he's winning this one. Bruce is elsewhere, dealing with the Poison Ivy part of the problem.
It's not long before Tim has the Riddler in cuffs and complaining loudly as Tim gets ready to figure out how to transport him to Arkham. They're in a part of the city that's not exactly empty at night, but which is empty of people who might want to help either of them.
But then somebody says, “HEY!” in a rough shout that puts Tim immediately on his guard. When he looks around for the source of the noise, he finds Red Hood crouching on a fire escape, grinning at him.
"Oh my god," the Riddler says. "My hero."
"No," Tim says, but he's really thinking, Let's see. He grabs the Riddler's arm roughly.
Red Hood’s smile disappears, and he’s on the ground in a second. “I know you want to be doing that,” he says. “But I’m not going to let you.”
"He was putting people in really serious danger," Tim says. It may be a slight exaggeration, but the traps were difficult to escape if you didn't know how, and it could have gone badly.
Red Hood rolls his eyes so hard that Tim can tell.
“Yeah, escape rooms are so scary,” he says. “Come on. Let go of them so I can fight you.”
"I was handling it," the Riddler says cheerfully. "But you can take over."
"I'm pretty sure I'm not supposed to fight you," Tim tells Red Hood and then is immediately sorry he did.
Red Hood rotates his shoulders like he’s getting ready to heft a punch at someone.
“Batman must love you,” he says, and before Tim can answer, there comes the punch.
Tim doges, because he doesn't think he can catch a fist with that much weight behind it. Okay, like it or not, he's doing this. "You don't have to protect people like him," he says. The Riddler is hovering nearby, as if deciding whether to intervene.
Red Hood says, “Watch yourself!” And then he grabs Tim by the front of his costume and pulls him face first into his fist.
Tim has to get his bearings fast, because Red Hood isn't stopping. Tim can take a punch, but Red Hood hits hard. Tim strikes out with his foot, aiming for Red Hood's ankle. Red Hood trips, catches his footing, and surges up to grab Tim into a chokehold.
“Where’s Batman?” he asks.
Tim coughs and doesn't bother trying to answer. He tries to do something, anything, with his knees and elbows, but this kid is good.
“Eddie,” says Red Hood, “Get out of here, I’ll cut you loose in a minute.” His grip doesn’t loosen for a second.
"You're good?" the Riddler says. "Never mind, you're good. I'll be close by." He dashes away, not in the least hampered by the cuffs.
Tim tries for a headbutt, but it's half-hearted.
Red Hood says, “You’re little, huh?”
"Nn," Tim says. He's panicking and being stupid.There is something he can do. He stomps as hard as he can on Red Hood's foot.
“Ow,” says Red Hood. “Seriously, where’s B--Batman?” At least he’s starting to sound a little winded.
Tim still doesn't answer. One, because he's not telling. Two, because the less he says, the less Bruce can call him out for breaking the rules.
“Argh,” says Red Hood. “You’re a pain in the ass.” He lets go. The Riddler, Tim notes, is long gone.
"I'm not going to argue morality with you," Tim says. God, he hopes he sounds older than he thinks he does. "I'm just going to radio Batman."
“I figured,” says Red Hood morosely. “Don’t worry, man, I wasn’t going to argue morality with you, either. Anyway, I don’t think I’m supposed to fuck with you.”
"Says who?" Tim asks, surprised into conversation. Does Red Hood have a boss?
Red Hood laughs. “Everyone,” he says. “No one down here wants me to make Batman mad, and Batman doesn’t want you to get messed up like the last two, right? Everyone!”
Tim has some questions about that, but he's not asking Red Hood. "Well, if you stop me from doing my job, you're going to have to--fuck with me."
“Oh, I just mean messing with your head,” Red Hood says. “I think hitting you’s just fine.”
"I can handle messing with my head," Tim says, and right before the end of the sentence, he aims a blow at Red Hood's shoulder, just to show that they're still fighting.
Red Hood jumps back, but Tim still lands the blow. Red Hood takes a step back in retreat and eyes Tim consideringly.
“You like being Robin?” he asks. Still fighting! Or not.
"Yeah," Tim says. It's a weird question. Red Hood is probably looking for an opening where he can land a verbal blow. "I like it and I'm good at it. So don't assume I'm going anywhere."
“Batman’s okay?” Red Hood asks, like he hasn’t heard the second part.
"What?" Tim says, because that makes no sense, but--
He's been solving stupid, obvious, scary riddles all night, and this one isn't so different. It's not like he never saw the previous Robin's fighting style. He had YouTube then, too.
"Oh," he says.
Red Hood says, “Crap.”
That explains why Red Hood is different from the others. Why Batman is different about him, too. Less than a year ago, he was one of them.
"I have so many questions," Tim says.
“And that’s great,” says Red Hood. “Great for you.”
Standing here talking to Red Hood, he doesn't seem like such a bad person. In fact, nothing he's done so far seems that bad. "So…" Tim shifts his weight, letting his guard down a little. "Do you know something I don't?"
“I told you, no messing with your head,” says Red Hood. “You’ll figure it out. We both did.” And then, with no warning at all, he throws his shoulder into Tim’s gut, flips him backwards, and slams him into the ground. Tim, ears ringing, hears footsteps pounding away.
“SORRY!” Red Hood hollers from halfway across the street. “I’ve got to take care of my friend!”
Tim gets up, but slowly. He knows he's not going to be able to catch up, and maybe that's okay for tonight. Maybe there's a lot he doesn't know, and he hates to act without all the information.
What the hell is he going to say to Bruce about this?
Ultimately, Tim doesn't say anything to Bruce. He lets him know that Red Hood got in the way and helped the Riddler escape, but he leaves out the conversation. Lying by omission isn't exactly lying.
But he needs to know more, and the internet can't help him this time. He has to talk to someone who knows more about why the other Robins left. He doesn't want to talk to Dick, for obvious reasons, and he can't talk to Bruce.
But maybe Barbara can help him.
He's supposed to be going over some surveillance with her, and he shows up early. Bruce is at a fundraiser tonight, so Tim is meant to be doing something low-stakes. This is definitely not that. He's banking on the fact that Barbara also doesn't tell Bruce everything.
"Hey," he says when she lets him in. "Sorry, I'm early."
Barbara spins her chair around from her monitors and says, “Oh, Tim. That’s all right. You sounded a little anxious when you called, so I thought you might be early.”
Tim doesn't like being thought of as anxious or predictable, but he's probably both. He sets his bag down. "Yeah. Some stuff came up on patrol a couple of days ago that I wanted to check in about. But stuff it made more sense to run by you than Bruce." He hopes she can read between the lines.
He hasn’t given her quite enough, apparently, and/or Bruce hasn’t mentioned Red Hood’s increased activity, because she just raises an eyebrow.
Tim takes a seat, hooking his fingers together in intricate patterns. "You can tell Bruce about this conversation if you have to, but I don't want him to worry for now. I keep running into Red Hood. He knows that part."
Babs says, “Ah,” as if the rest has become instantly clear. Of course it has. She’s one of the smartest people Tim has ever met.
"I know who he is," Tim says. "Bruce doesn't know that I know. I just have some questions." And everyone else will get upset if he asks those questions.
“You all end up here,” she muses. “All right, kid. I can’t promise everything, but shoot.”
This part is hard. "I don't want to dig into anyone's private business," Tim says. "But I need to know if I'm missing something important. If the others both walked away, am I going to need to do that?" He can't even begin to imagine wanting that, but he doesn't have all the pieces of the puzzle.
Babs considers. “Bruce is tough,” she says. “I don’t mean resilient, I mean difficult. He’s allowed to operate in this city only by sticking to his self-imposed code, but besides that, he’s incredibly stubborn. And as you might have noticed, he’s not very emotionally available.”
"No kidding," Tim says. He doesn't mind, some of the time. But it's not exactly easy to deal with. "So, what, they couldn't handle his personality? So they quit? What losers." He doesn't mean that, but it just comes out.
Babs looks at him sharply. “You know you’re different from them, I hope,” she says. “You and I both are. We have somewhere to go.”
Tim winces. "Sorry. I didn't mean that. I just...Red Hood is helping the people we're supposed to put away. Was that really his only other option?" If it was, that's even more upsetting.
“Jason has his own way of seeing the world,” says Babs. “I think the people whose side he’s chosen to take remind him of where he comes from. If you asked him about it, he’d probably tell you that crime is a trap and the people doing it sometimes deserve better than Arkham or prison. I’m not on his side in this.”
Jason. Tim rolls the name around in his head. He knew it, of course, from doing his research on Bruce. But hearing someone say it is different. "What does Dick think?" he asks. Mostly because he doesn't know what to think himself.
Babs laughs. “Poor Dick,” she says, not entirely sympathetically. “He’s attached. And there was an inciting incident, before Jason left Bruce for good. Dick knows more than I do about that, but I know it made him...accommodating.”
"I don't want to ask Dick and upset him," Tim says, going for the jugular. "Tell me more?"
Babs gives him a warning look. “What do you know now?” she asks.
"I know what happened to the Joker," Tim says. "I can guess that Jason was involved. That's it."
Babs nods. “Somehow, the Joker worked out who Jason is,” she says. “He and Harley Quinn kidnapped him from the Manor. Somehow, Dick found out and was able to get there in time to save his life. But the Joker knew Batman’s secret. So Dick killed him.” She hunts around for her coffee cup and picks it up. “I can only assume that the missing link here is one of the friends Jason is protecting now. Someone who knows about Bruce and found out about Jason’s kidnapping in time to tell Dick.”
Maybe this is why Bruce was so weird about Tim figuring out his secret. Tim pulls his knees up on the chair and loops his arms around them. "Wow," he says. "Dick probably did the right thing. But what's his relationship with Jason now?" And Jason's friends, Tim thinks.
“The real question is, what is Bruce’s?” Babs says. “Which is none. Possibly Dick feels that he has to pick up the slack. Whether or not those villains really care about Jason, they’re hardly fit role models. And he likes Jason. So do I, although you don’t see me enabling him in a life of crime.”
"Oh," Tim says. "So this is why Bruce and Dick don't talk. Aside from the Joker thing." To Bruce, Tim bets being friends with a traitor looks the same as being a traitor. And being a traitor means fighting for anyone besides him.
“I think that’s why Dick doesn’t talk to Bruce,” says Babs. “I wouldn’t dream of trying to psychoanalyze Bruce.” She clearly would.
"Psychoanalyzing Bruce might be a little useful for someone in my position," Tim says. He just wants to know if he's going to get fired if he does--anything. He doesn't know what that anything might be, but he wants to fully understand his options and the consequences before he runs into Red Hood again.
“If it’s any consolation, he typically makes it the other person’s choice to leave,” Babs says. “He likes to issue ultimatums. He doesn’t like to be the person to actually kick someone out. So I think it more comes down to what you can take.”
Tim thinks--is pretty sure--that he can take a lot. Almost anything. He still can't imagine why someone would throw this away. "I'll be fine," he says.
“Hmm,” says Babs. “Well. If anyone would be, I’d put my money on you. You and Bruce are alike in ways he and the others never were.”
Tim feels a warm, fierce glow in his chest. They are. That's why Bruce needs him. But…"Does that mean Dick is going to end up thinking I'm a jerk, too?" He's been a little worried about that, in case Dick thinks Tim is using him to find out more about Red Hood.
“Listen, kid, I can’t allay all your fears,” says Babs. “If you want to get into this, there’s going to be fallout. Dick’s a nice guy, but if he was willing to put up with just anything, he’d still be with Bruce.”
Tim chews his lip and nods. "I'll figure it out," he says. But there's only so much digging he can do before he has to gather more evidence.
There isn't a lot about Robin on the internet, but there is quite a lot on Jason Todd. Tim even finds medical records, although not by especially legal means. Even online, it sounds like Jason is just a tough Gotham kid from kind of bad circumstances. But there's got to be more. Anyone who protects people like that, even bad people, is fascinating to Tim, the same way Batman is fascinating.
He also finds out where Jason is likely to be. It doesn't take a genius to track down where some of their enemies (and Jason's friends) live and stake the places out. On a slow night when Tim is supposed to be off, he leaves central Gotham and posts himself outside a nice condo where the Scarecrow is supposedly living. Tim's in street clothes today, wearing something that amounts to a disguise. He looks like a character from Yu-Gi-Oh. He learned skeezy, weird disguises from Bruce.
He’s not there too long when a car pulls into the driveway. A slim, well-dressed man climbs out of the driver’s side, and a nearly as skinny guy in clothes almost as tacky as Tim’s gets out from the other. They go up the walk and the well-dressed man lets them into the Scarecrow’s condo. Tim can’t see his face, but then, he’s rarely seen Scarecrow’s real face anyway.
Tim saunters closer, still keeping his distance. He goes around to the far side of the building and casually presses a device to the wall so he can listen in. If this is really the Scarecrow (he seems so normal!), maybe he'll say something about Jason. Tim shakes his shoulders uncomfortably. He's spending way too much time and energy on this, but it's a little late for second thoughts.
At first all he hears are the two of them moving around. Then a smooth, prim voice says, “Eddie, you don’t need to worry so much. Harley can take care of herself. And if she can’t, she probably deserves it. She kills people, you know.”
"You kill people," Eddie says petulantly. "You. All the time. Well, not infrequently."
The Riddler sounds exactly like the Riddler. The other one, if he is the Scarecrow, doesn't sound anything like what Tim is used to him sounding like.
“I don’t know about that,” says the prim one. “It’s a natural consequence of important research. It’s hardly murder. Anyway, I haven’t done that in quite a while. Many months.”
"Jon." There's rustling, and Tim can't make out what's going on. Definitely the Scarecrow, though. After a minute, Eddie says, "Anyway, I think after everything that's happened, it's reasonable to worry. Even with Jason attacking anyone who looks at us funny."
Tim presses himself hard against the wall, barely breathing.
“No one is sad that the Joker is gone,” Scarecrow says, still in his silky, put-together voice. “Everyone thinks Harley had something to do with it. Half of everyone, anyway.”
"That's really upsetting her," Eddie says. "Come on, pretend to be human for five seconds. She loved him. I know it's fucked up, but try to have some empathy."
Tim feels like this is a really pointed lesson directed at him.
“I’m saying that no one wants to come for her,” Scarecrow says patiently. “She doesn’t--ah--doesn’t need you watching her back every moment. Gotham is afraid of her.”
"Batman isn't," Eddie says. "Jon, that's distracting."
Tim tells himself he'll listen for just another few seconds, in case they say anything else about Jason. What the hell is going on?
“Show a little mental fortitude,” says Scarecrow. “Anyway. Edward. Batman isn’t hunting us as viciously as he was before the little bird left him.”
"Don't call me that," Eddie says like it's thousandth time. "And I know. I'm grateful. He's a really, really awesome kid."
“I’m glad you think so,” Scarecrow says. “You know, this kind of disturbance in the natural order of things can only go on so long before there’s a reaction. Sooner or later it’s going to be us protecting him. I do hope you’re ready. And that Harvey is in a good mood.”
"Screw Harvey," Eddie says lightly. "I'm ready. I'm not scared of Batman. And his new side piece is about ten years old, have you seen him?"
Tim winces. Time to go, but...He moves to the front of the house, still amplifying sound from inside.
There’s an abrupt silence within. Then Jonathan says, “If you’d like to take a seat, Eddie, I’ll be back momentarily. I need to collect myself.”
"Oh," Eddie says. "Okay…?"
Tim realizes he's being stupid too late to bolt and get away with it. He’s still standing frozen in full view of the front door when the tall, well-dressed man swings it open. His face is very cold. He says, “You look frightened, young man.” Then he leaps forward like some kind of horrible creature, seizes Tim by the arm, and drags him into the house.
Tim would know how to react if he was Robin (fight) or if he was Tim (be as scared as he is), but he's in this other disguise, and he doesn't know what they know, or what they suspect. At least he doesn't look like himself.
Eddie is sitting crosslegged on the couch. "Oh, what?" he says.
Scarecrow kicks the door shut behind them and drags Tim forward. “A little listening thing!” he says.
Tim can see exactly how he's the Scarecrow now. "I--sorry!" he says. "I heard this was a good place to score drugs." Whatever, he might as well play who he looks like he's playing.
Eddie laughs and smothers it with a throw pillow.
Scarecrow says, very precisely, “You thought an expensive suburban condominium community was the best place to score drugs?”
"Ummmmm." Tim wishes he had a few more gadgets on him. "Pills, yeah."
“Users can’t be dealers, young man. It’s bad business.” Scarecrow gives him a rough shake, like he thinks that will get the stupid ideas out of Tim.
"Yeah, good advice, actually," Eddie says. "Jon, what did we just say about killing?"
"You're gonna kill me?" Tim asks. He's ninety percent sure the Riddler won't and the Scarecrow will.
“Not on purpose,” Scarecrow says menacingly.
"Don't fuck with me," Tim says. "I can handle myself." There isn't a great way out of this. If it comes down to it, he's going to have to use some of his real moves. Bruce is going to kill him.
“What are you supposed to be?” Scarecrow asks. He gives Tim another hard shake, this time like he can shake the identity out of him.
This is not going to go somewhere productive. "Mr. Sarcastic," Tim says anyway, defensively, giving the stupid cover name he thought was pretty funny when he wasn't being kidnapped.
The Riddler laughs again. "This is some next-level Batman shit," he says. "I mean, right?"
Scarecrow snakes a hand around and rips off Tim’s beard. “Indeed,” he says.
Tim tenses. Okay. Time to fight his way out. At best, they'll recognize Robin and never know anything about Tim Drake. It's not like he's a public figure, and they don't have Bruce's resources. In a last-ditch effort not to have to fight, he says, "I just wanted to know more about Red Hood."
“So you came here?” Scarecrow says with a bit of a snarl. “You’re worse than Batman, if you don’t know that’s breaking the rules.”
"In case you hadn't noticed, I'm new," Tim says. "I don't know all the rules yet." He's learning fast, though. "And I didn't think I'd get caught."
"You should definitely fuck off Red Hood and also us," Eddie says. "In case you hadn't noticed, Jon is not in a good mood."
To be honest, he seems in a better mood than usual--he’s not wearing rags and screaming, which seemed like a good sign before Tim learned better. He is learning better now.
“I shouldn’t let you leave my house,” Scarecrow is growling. “You shouldn’t be at my house.”
"I--won't come back," Tim says, alarmed. Behind the alarm, though, is guilt. He's scaring the Scarecrow.
Eddie gets up from the couch, also alarmed. "Jon, honey--" He pauses and looks like he's debating whether the word was a mistake. "Let's just let him go. It's not like Batman couldn't find out where we all live if he wanted. Look, we'll set Red Hood on him. If anyone tries to kill another Robin, let's not have it be us."
Scarecrow lets Tim go. “Red Hood,” he says. In agreement? His face is flushed. He moves backwards towards Eddie.
"It's okay," Eddie says miserably, putting his hand on Scarecrow's arm. "Fuck. It's okay."
Batman would never apologize to criminals, so Tim just backs awkwardly to the door, then runs.
Jason finds Tim as he’s leaving school. He hops out of nowhere like a bully in a teen movie, grabs Tim’s arm, and says, “Hey, so what the hell is your problem, huh?”
Tim can instantly recognize Jason without the mask, and besides, he's seen pictures. And now he guesses the game is totally up with his secret identity, too. So that sucks.
"Can we talk somewhere else?" he asks, twisting away.
“Yeah, sure,” Jason says. “Just don’t run off, okay? I don’t feel like chasing anyone.”
"I'm not scared, so I won't be running," Tim says. Mostly he feels guilty and miserable. He leads Jason over behind the bleachers by the football field, silently daring him to make a comment about it. He doesn’t comment, but he does give Tim a rough, rakish little grin. It disappears into something more serious.
“That was a shitty thing to do,” he says. “You think they couldn’t come knocking on Bruce’s door if they wanted to?”
Tim isn't going to screw around with Jason. He likes him too much, against his will. "I know," he says. "I wasn't trying to mess with them. I was trying to find out more about you, because guess what, my side won't say anything." Barbara gave him a lot, but not real answers about why Jason is doing what he's doing, and even she doesn't like to talk about it. Tim can tell.
Jason gives him a look he can’t quite interpret.
“Dick says you’re smart,” he says. “Smart like Bruce. That part isn’t a compliment.”
"Yeah." Tim weighs his words carefully, because he likes Bruce. "I'm smart. But I'm not Bruce. Okay?"
“I know that,” Jason says. “Bruce pretends we don’t exist until we do something he can hit us for.”
It gives Tim chills. "Us," he says. "How do you go from being Robin to being...one of them?" He shakes his head. "Sorry, I don't mean that as a rhetorical question."
“Oh, no?” Jason says in surprise. “Okay. I have no idea what you’ve heard. You know, in all your stalker snooping.”
"I guess I just--" Tim squeezes his hands together. "I can see wanting to protect some of them. Like the Riddler, that makes sense. He's pretty harmless."
“They asked Bruce for help,” says Jason. “Jon was missing. Bruce said no.” He shrugs. “Sometimes he makes things simple and they’re not.”
"Jon," Tim echoes. "See, that's the part I don't get. I've had a dozen run-ins with him. He's a nightmare." Jason is so sure, though. It makes Tim feel even worse.
“He’s a lot of things,” says Jason. “Confused, mostly. But he shouldn’t die. And only the Joker deserved Arkham.”
Tim honestly hadn't put a lot of thought into the part that happens after they foil a plan. He is now.
"Sorry," he says. "I think I really scared them."
“No shit,” says Jason. “Nobody likes to be hunted down in their own house.” Tim remembers what happened to Jason.
He nods. "I really am sorry. I won't do it again. If I want to find out about you, I'll…I don't know, ask for your number?"
Jason’s mouth drops open.
Tim flushes. "Sorry, I guess that's weird, but Bruce won't tell me anything and I can't ask Dick and I think I was annoying Barbara…So I thought asking you would be easier."
“For my number,” Jason repeats.
"Uh, yeah," Tim says. "So I can call you. Well, preferably text you." Bruce is going to kill him, but only if he finds out. And detectives don't let the rules stop them.
“What are we gonna text about?” Jason says. He sounds delighted.
"I don't know," Tim says. "I'll probably ask you more questions about morality, but that might not take very long." In the back of his head, Tim asks himself, What are you even doing right now? You're not good at this with girls; you are definitely not good at this with costumed criminals.
“Yeah, probably not. I’m not interested in that kind of thing,” Jason says. “What about this?” Jason darts forward and kisses him.
Tim hasn't kissed a lot of people, and he doesn't see it coming, anyway. He makes a surprised noise and grabs Jason's arm. But he doesn't exactly try to stop him.
Jason leans back and smirks at him. He doesn’t reclaim his arm.
"Uh," Tim says. "So, your number?" He feels light-headed. Jason is a criminal. He could be waiting to attack Tim, back here where nobody can see them (he definitely isn't).
“Get your phone out,” Jason says. He still looks fiendish.
"You're the worst," Tim mutters, but that's not a normal admonition. It's what you say to someone you like, and despite himself, Tim really likes Jason. He's charming, and even if his morals aren't Tim's, they're so intense that Tim is having trouble judging. He gets out his phone, thinking about how scared the Riddler and the Scarecrow were, and how mad Jason was.
Jason rattles off his number, and then says, “Oh, Eddie is they, by the way. Not he. You can stop pulling a Bruce about that.”
"Oh," Tim says, mortified. "Sorry. I wasn't trying to--I didn't know that." Bruce never said that. There's maybe a lot Bruce didn't say? There's maybe a lot Bruce didn't know.
“Oh, you’re not an asshole,” says Jason. “That’s nice. So text me when you want to go on a date.”
"What?" Tim says. "I mean, yeah. Yeah, okay." He shoves his phone back in his pocket, feeling a little bit like he's been mugged. Bruce is definitely going to find out and Tim is definitely going to get fired. Right now, he only cares a little.
“By the way,” Jason says. “I get it if you have to stop them doing bad stuff. So do I. I just can’t let you bring them there. Or hurt them for no reason. Right?” The rules Jason has for himself make almost no sense, but he sticks with them so fastidiously.
"I don't hurt them for no reason." Tim thinks that's true. "But where am I supposed to bring them, then?"
“You don’t,” says Jason. “Prison is bullshit. Long live freedom.”
"Okay," Tim says. "We can talk about that, I guess." On their "date." Which is probably a trap and which he should definitely tell Bruce about.
And which he isn't going to tell anyone about.
Tim half expects it all to be a joke. That would make sense, right? Just stringing the new kid along? But if it’s a joke, Jason is playing to win. He texts Tim the very next day. The text says, are u free after school? with a school bus emoji, which Tim thinks might be a little sarcastic.
They text back and forth a little--some of Jason's texts are almost unreadable--and agree to meet at the arcade a few stops away from Tim's school.
Tim agonizes about the fact that he's wearing his school uniform and Jason is definitely going to make fun of him, and he ends up just putting his hoodie on over his uniform at the end of the day. He gets to the arcade before Jason. He can't stop looking over his shoulder, even though there's no chance that Bruce or Babs or even Dick would anywhere near here.
All things considered, it would be unfair if Jason appeared out of nowhere and scared the crap out of him, wouldn’t it? Maybe Jason knows that, because he actually doesn’t do it. He texts, Im HER, and then appears down the block, hurrying along with the cool wind chasing him. When Tim clearly sees him, he waves.
Jason is really cute. Tim probably thinks that because of the kiss, but maybe also because of his eyes? He swallows and tries not to be blushing by the time Jason gets close.
"So," he says. "Video games and talking about morality?"
Jason makes a face. “You go on a lot of dates?” he asks.
Jason is still calling it a date. "Um, no," Tim says. "But when I do, that's pretty much how they are."
Jason laughs. “All right,” he says. “We can try that, I guess. Did you bring quarters?” He pulls a heavy looking bag out of his pocket.
"Oh, wow, not that many," Tim says. This doesn't make sense. Jason even brought quarters? It's so weirdly sweet, in the same way that Jason protecting the villains is sweet. "You really want to go on a date with me?"
Jason looks baffled and offended. “I’m here, aren’t I?”
"Yeah," Tim says, "But I guess I don't get why."
“You’re hot,” says Jason. “And you’re interested.” He shrugs like it’s a little uncomfortable. “It’s not a Bruce thing. I just don’t take that long to make up my mind.”
Tim melts. Jason is the sweetest guy he's ever met, terrible morals aside. Tim one hundred percent wants to be on this date. "Oh," he says. "Usually I take longer. Want to play a game?"
Jason grins. “Yeah, I do,” he says. “Come on, show me your favorite.”
"They have Ninja Turtles here," Tim says, leading Jason inside and over to it. This is so weirdly normal. Like they didn't try to beat each other up in costumes at night. If Tim thinks about, he can still remember the curl of panic in his stomach when Jason choked him.
“Nice,” says Jason. “I’m so bad at that.”
"Really?" Tim says, mind still elsewhere. "You’re good at it in real life."
“I can fight all right,” says Jason, but when Tim looks at his face, he can see that Jason’s modesty is a joke they’re sharing.
"You kicked my ass," Tim says. "And I'm really good." He's only four months in, but he knows that. "Come on. Give me a quarter." He suddenly feels more like a regular teenager than he ever has, even before Bruce was in his life.
Jason puts one into Tim’s hand, and leaves his there a little long. He’s not looking at Tim, but he’s smiling.
Tim's stomach flips. This is a date, a date, he's on a date with Robin. Even though he knows that's not true anymore, he can't get it out of his head. It takes him three rounds of Ninja Turtles to calm down.
Jason drags him around to a couple more games, which Jason is also terrible at playing. He doesn’t seem to mind how much he sucks. It explains why he brought so many quarters.
To Tim's total surprise, he's having a blast. After he loses at skeeball too many times, he does something very brave and grabs Jason's hand. There are a lot of other kids their age around, but everyone's focused on their games.
Jason doesn’t pull his hand away. He says, “I want a milkshake. Do you want a milkshake?”
"Oh my god, yes," Tim says. This had better not belatedly turn out to be a trap. But it's not. Tim's heart is racing.
They get milkshakes and sit side by side on the swivel stools at the counter. Jason says, “This is nice.”
"I've never been on a date with a guy before," Tim says, swinging his leg so it briefly touches Jason's. Smooth.
Jason says, “You like guys, though, right?” He looks a little worried.
"Oh, yeah," Tim says. "Yeah. I just don't date much, period, and it's easier to say yes to a girl asking you out than to...take initiative? I guess." Jason is worried that Tim doesn't like him. This is incredibly far from what Tim thought it was a few days ago.
“Okay,” says Jason. “Cool.”
"But the thing is…" Tim clears his throat and makes himself look at Jason. "You know what the thing is, right? He's going to be really unhappy about this."
Jason nods slowly. “I’m not doing anything just to tick him off,” he says.
"I know," Tim says quickly. "Because I don't think either of us wants him to find out about this. But don't you think he will?" Tim thinks Bruce doesn't have him bugged. But he's not sure.
“So when you say this, are you saying you want to go out again?” Jason says.
"If nothing awful happens by the time I finish my milkshake, yeah, I'd like that," Tim says. Jason feels warm, even when their legs and hands aren't touching. Tim can feel the warmth radiating off him, even when he's defensive or teasing.
Jason says, “I’m not kidnapping you or anything. Of course, Bruce would probably think I am.” He rolls his eyes. Tim still can’t tell what Jason actually thinks of Bruce. He’s been assuming it’s like with Dick, but Jason isn’t like Dick at all.
"What happened when you left?" Tim asks.
“What do you mean?” Jason asks. “Like why did I leave? Like what did he say? Or like, how did I fuck up so bad?”
"I guess…" Tim takes a sip of his milkshake so he has a second to think. "If you told me about it, would I want to leave, too?" He likes Bruce. He trusts Bruce. If there's a reason not to, he'd rather know now.
“I don’t know you that well,” Jason says. “I don’t know. I guess I just feel stronger about the people I care about than I do about keeping secrets and being the one person who knows what the greater good is, or whatever.”
That's a relief. Tim doesn't want to leave even a little bit, and he doesn't feel like he has to. "Got it," he says. "Just so you know, I want to stay Robin. But I also want to go on dates with you."
Jason says, “Works for me. Bruce’ll be mad.”
"You think he'll fire me? Or tell me not to see you?" Right now, with Jason looking at him, Tim doesn't totally know what he'd do, given the choice. The last few weeks have been really confusing.
Jason looks uncertain, and a little sad. “I don’t really know what he thinks about me,” he says. “So I don’t really know what he’d think about you.”
"He won't talk about you at all," Tim says. "So I'm guessing he's pretty upset." He's gotten good at reading Bruce fast, and he knows Bruce is totally open to talking about how awful some of his enemies are. Not Jason.
“It’s not like I wanted to leave,” says Jason. “He just wasn’t going to give them a break. And they saved my life. And it’s not their fault they know.”
"They saved your life?" Tim asks.
“They got me back?” Jason says. “Harleen told Eddie and Eddie told Dick, and Dick took care of things.”
"Oh," Tim says. He finally feels like he has the entire puzzle. Those people know, so of course that's why Bruce is being so hard on them. "That doesn't seem sustainable," he says.
“That’s what Bruce thinks,” says Jason. “But, you know, he doesn’t--” He drags a finger across his throat. “--so all he does is go and stare at them all scary while they’re buying groceries or whatever, and hit them harder, and lock them up for nothing.” He scoffs sadly. “Like the jerks who run that place wouldn’t pry his name out of them faster than anyone else in Gotham.”
"Is it bad? Arkham?" Tim immediately feels unbearably naive. He's never been to Arkham. Bruce wouldn't let him go.
Jason plays with his straw. He says, “They don’t call nice places asylum for the criminally insane. Even Dick will tell you that, and he’s a cop. He testifies not to get people sent there.”
"Oh," Tim says. "I didn't know that, either. I'm kind of new at this." He didn't know what he thought happened to the people they stopped. He'd heard about Arkham, but--"But the Riddler, they're not insane," he says.
“There’s people here,” Jason says mildly. “Anyway, they’re not insane, they’re just--what’s that thing where you have to do stuff or something bad will happen?”
"OCD," Tim says immediately. His parents thought he might have that, when he was younger. He's still not totally sure he doesn't.
“That, right,” says Jason. “I mean, most of them are less crazy than that, even. Not Jon. But it doesn’t matter, right, because they hurt him when he’s in there. They remember when he worked for them.”
Tim shivers and pulls a little closer to Jason. "I need to think about some things," he says. Does Bruce know that? But of course he does. He just probably thinks it's worth the trade-off to keeping them off the streets.
“The thing is,” Jason says, “regular old prison isn’t good to people either. That’s why I don’t call the cops on anyone, you know? It’s like, solve the problem, see the person. Don’t just lock ‘em up.”
"That's--" Tim stops. "I'm not saying you're definitely wrong. Just that I need to think about it and how it fits in with being Robin."
“That’s why I like you,” says Jason comfortably. “You should probably stop handing out your name like that, though.
"It's been a weird week," Tim says. "And the situations he prepared me for aren't really the ones that have come up."
Jason grins, and leans over to kiss Tim on the cheek. “That’s the Jason Todd influence on you,” he says. “I fuck shit up. You want to go take a walk?”
"Okay," Tim says. Jason's not that much cooler than you, he tells himself, but it's not true. He hops off his stool and follows Jason outside, glancing around to make sure, again, that they weren't followed.
He lets the wind mess up his hair and he walks down the block with Jason, heading for the park. Daring himself not to freak out, he grabs Jason's hand again.
Just then someone says, "Hey, Drake!"
Tim lets go of Jason's hand like it's electric. It's a kid from his school, this guy Benson who plays lacrosse and is always making fun of everyone. He usually leaves Tim alone, although he's slapped Tim's books out of his hands a few times.
Jason squints like he’s confused, but not very confused. He glances back over his shoulder before Tim can stop him.
"So that's your secret," Benson says. He sounds delighted. "You're fucking weird townie kids? Does your girlfriend know about this? I mean, holy shit."
Tim can feel his face burning, but he can't fight. He can't fight, because he'll win.
Jason looks Tim up and down. Tim doesn’t know if he’s reacting to Tim’s hesitation, or the girlfriend thing, or what. But it’s not good, whatever it is. Is it? Maybe, if he’s lucky, Jason is just waiting for his lead.
"We should just go," Tim mumbles to Jason.
"I'm telling her you're gay," Benson says. "Hey, is this kid trailer trash too?"
“Oh boy,” says Jason.
"You got something to say?" Benson asks Jason. "You sound like trailer trash."
Tim tucks his fists into the pocket of his hoodie and tries not to scream. Jason puts a hand on his arm, and then the next thing Tim knows, Jason is walking up to Benson at a slow saunter. He doesn’t say anything.
Tim almost says Don't, but he can't quite bring himself to.
"What the fuck are you looking at?" Benson says. He's taller than Jason, and he's in good shape. "Are you stupid or something?"
As Tim watches, Jason moves. He swipes Benson’s feet out from under him. When Benson hits the ground, Jason stomps hard on his fingers, then kicks the side of his knee so hard something pops. Benson starts screeching.
“You seem like a jock,” Jason says. “Good luck with your sports now.”
Then he grabs Tim’s hand, hustles them around a corner, and says, “Shit, let’s get out of here!”
Tim runs, with barely time to catch his breath or work through what he feels. When they stop, several blocks away, Tim says, "You're awesome."
And he does know what he feels. He feels really, really good.
“So, girlfriend?” Jason says, raising an eyebrow. He’s holding Tim’s hand, though.
"Oh," Tim says, "No. No! We broke up. I don't have a girlfriend." He desperately wants Jason to know that.
Jason’s sideways smile comes back out. “Neat.” He leans forward, tugging Tim in by the hand, and kisses him for actually kind of a long time.
Tim lasts almost a month keeping his mouth shut. He sees Jason several times a week during that time, usually as a civilian, sometimes not. Tim keeps beating up criminals and keeps feeling bad when they're Jason's friends. This particular night they're sending Two-Face on his way to Arkham, and Tim doesn't like Two-Face, but something about the way he looks at Batman gets into Tim's head. As he's being taken away, Two-Face says, "God, I was so right about you, before. This isn't justice."
Tim has to say something. Not just about Arkham, but maybe that's the place to start. He and Bruce are back in the cave, after, and Tim braces himself for the possibility that this could be his last night here.
"Hey, Bruce?" he says. "Two-Face seemed pretty upset about going to Arkham."
“Two-Face hates to lose,” Bruce says. “But he’s made his choices.”
"I know," Tim says uncomfortably. He doesn't want to fight with Bruce. "But I looked Arkham up. It seems pretty awful. Do you know the number of complaints there've been?" That part's all true.
Bruce considers. “It may not be the nicest place,” he says, “but they’re not the nicest people. And it’s not our job to fix the system; only to stop the crime.”
Tim looks up at Bruce. "Isn't it, though? Aren't we working outside the system because we don't like how parts of it operate? Because we don't think they're effective?"
Bruce looks like he’s ready to argue, but before he even opens his mouth, he gets a canny look in his eye.
“Tim,” he says gently.
"Right," Tim says. "World's greatest detective. Where should I start?"
“You could confirm my suspicions,” Bruce says. “Who’s been talking to you?”
"Red Hood," Tim says. He stumbles over the words. "Jason."
Bruce nods slowly.
“I should have known you would keep looking,” he says. “You’re curious. Smart.” He shakes his head slightly.
"I know I wasn't supposed to," Tim says carefully. He feels lightheaded. "And I'm sorry I didn't listen. But I don't regret it. I didn't know a lot of things, like about Arkham, or what the Riddler's like."
“You don’t need to know what the Riddler’s like, do you?” Bruce asks. He doesn’t ask it very much like a question. “You just need to stop him.”
"Them," Tim says. "Just for the record. Those are their pronouns."
Bruce looks genuinely confused, like a bug has just flown into his mouth.
"Just for the record," Tim repeats. "Jason told me that. And he told me how bad they are to the Scarecrow in Arkham. It's just--a lot to think about. They're people."
“People who hurt others,” Bruce says, as if the people part goes without saying, except Tim doesn’t think it does. “They have to go somewhere, Tim. Arkham is designed for this.” He adds, like it helps at all, “I know it’s not a good place.”
"I'm not saying I want to stop doing this," Tim says quickly, so that Bruce understands that he's not Jason. "But I do want to stop sending them there. And--I know you're upset that they know who you are, but you can't let that--" He shouldn't say can't. He shuts his mouth.
Bruce looks startled, and then unhappy. “Jason has told you quite a few things,” he says.
"We've, uh, been spending a lot of time together," Tim says. He'd been wondering if he could avoid telling Bruce this part.
Bruce quirks a smile, and an eyebrow.
“You’ve fallen for the Todd charm,” he says. “Many people do.”
"Oh," Tim says, blushing. "I thought you might yell at me." Any part of this conversation that doesn't involve Bruce yelling and Tim having to get stubborn is a great relief.
“If I’m angry, I can only blame myself,” says Bruce. He clears his throat. “Everyone seems to be taking his side except me. I’m beginning to be outnumbered.”
"I don't think he's a bad person at all," Tim says. "And neither is Dick." He pauses. "And neither are you. I'm not saying that." The idea of them all getting along seems incredibly unlikely, but maybe Tim can at least keep seeing Jason and being Robin.
“That sounds complicated,” says Bruce. “If none of us is bad, does that also mean none of us is wrong?”
"I think you might be a little wrong to terrorize people who aren't threatening you," Tim says mildly. "And Jason might be a little wrong to stick up for them no matter what."
“Hm,” Bruce says, which means he knows Tim is right. “I think ‘terrorizing’ is a little strong.”
"Not from their point of view," Tim says. "Come on, if you weren't scary, what would be the point?" He shakes out his hands, which are trembling.
Bruce is silent.
"Bruce," Tim pleads. "Please?" He's thinking, Oh my god, I'm going to have to run away and live in a sewer with Jason. Even though I have a house.
“The information they have could destroy us,” Bruce says. It sounds like an argument he’s had before.
"I know," Tim says, "but it hasn't. Don't you think it would have by now? Besides…" Maybe he shouldn't say this part, but he's going to. "What's the worst case scenario? That they know where you sleep? You don't sleep. And you're friends with the police commissioner."
Bruce looks at Tim as though he’s something Bruce hasn’t quite seen before. It makes Tim a little nervous. Then Bruce says, “We’re not in agreement. But I see your points.” He pauses, not making a face but clearly trying not to make one. “Jason hasn’t scared you off completely, has he?”
"No," Tim says quickly. "Bruce, this is--everything. I hope you know that." It's not quite everything. But Bruce will know what he means. Tim hopes he knows.
If Tim didn’t know better, he’d say Bruce is relieved.
“Then I guess we’ll have to talk about where to go from here,” he says. “Since you’re obviously going to be stubborn about all this.”
"I am," Tim says. He gives Bruce a little smile. "We're both stubborn, so I guess we'd better learn how to solve disagreements fast." He feels some of the tension start to go out of his shoulders.
“I assume you’re going to stay friends with Jason,” Bruce says. The name doesn’t sound as difficult in his mouth as it did at the beginning of this conversation.
"Yeah," Tim says. "I better hope so, because we're going out."
Bruce stares at him.
"Well, I don't know what to call it," Tim says in a rush. "I don't want to say dating yet, but…" This is so much worse than telling his Dad and Dana will be.
Bruce does what Tim doesn’t expect and starts laughing.
“Oh,” he says. “I never knew what to expect from Jason, but I thought I could predict you.”
Tim presses his fists against his face to get himself to stop blushing. "What does that mean?" he demands.
“It means I somehow thought you were the type to toe the line,” Bruce says. “I should have known from how you found me that that wasn’t true.” He shakes his head. “I’m not comfortable with this, not at all. It can’t affect your work, Tim, you understand that?”
Tim should have known Bruce will be impossible after all. "I can't promise it won't affect me if he shows up to get in our way," he says. "I mean, not entirely." He kind of likes the idea of going toe-to-toe with Jason again, but he might pull his punches in a pinch.
Bruce rubs his face.
“If you don’t mind my saying so,” chimes in a voice from the stairs, “a little complication of the issue never weakens one’s morals. It simply makes them more generous.”
If Alfred was listening the entire time, Tim doesn’t know. He wouldn’t be surprised.
Bruce looks very tired. “I’m outflanked as well as outnumbered,” he says.
"At least you know everyone in your life is a good team?" Tim suggests. He grins over at Alfred. "Right?"
“Unfortunately, that includes the villains,” says Bruce. He hesitates. “Is he--? He seems all right?”
"Yeah," Tim says. "I think he bounces back from things. He's sad, though, I think. About you." Tim can't imagine how he'd feel, in Jason's position. But also, he's not Jason, and Jason is resilient and stubborn and he really does seem all right.
Bruce says, after a second, “We’ll talk more tomorrow. Get some rest, Tim.”
Alfred meets Tim’s eyes, and shakes his head just barely. Don’t say anything.
"Okay," Tim says, grateful for permission not to push it. "Night, Bruce. Night, Alfred." Alfred is a national hero.
Tim lets himself out and bikes home, feeling breathless with adrenaline and relief. He wants to call Jason and tell him all about it, but Jason might be mad that he said anything in the first place, so he settles for going home and lying awake in bed for ages.
He does eventually text Jason around four in the morning, though, just to say goodnight. Then he's able to sleep.
He runs into Jason out on patrol the next night. He and Bruce have split up (he actually thinks Bruce engineered that) and Tim is in the red-light district, or whatever it's called now. He isn't doing much, just sitting on a rooftop and keeping an eye on things. He has a half-solid tip about the Penguin taking over a block down here, so he's monitoring for anything on that. His radio's on, but he's prepared to turn it off.
He spots Jason walking along the rooftops on the other side of the street, not noticing Tim at all.
Tim should probably make his way over there and say hi. Or text Jason. Instad, he grapples to Jason's rooftop, swinging in low and swiping Jason's legs out from under him.
Jason yelps (it is cute), then rolls back onto his feet into a fighting stance before he sees it’s Tim and relaxes.
“Rude,” he says.
"You need to get those defenses up," Tim says, but he's grinning. "Hi."
“Hi,” says Jason. He grins back. “You look so good in that. Are we fighting?”
"Not right now," Tim says. "Maybe later." He clicks off his radio. "I told Bruce everything. But it's okay," he adds quickly.
Jason says, “Oh....good?”
"He didn't freak out," Tim says. "Well, not forever. I think I maybe even made him feel a little better about you and Dick." He shrugs. "He just finally feels like he lost, I think."
Jason scuffs his toe against the rough rooftop. “Is he going to change anything?”
"We're talking about it," Tim says. "For Bruce, that's huge. I think he really knew I wasn't budging on the Arkham part." He pauses, unsure if Bruce will stick to it, but… "He's not going to threaten them like he was."
Jason looks at him hopefully. “He really said that? They’ve all been losing their shit for a year. Even Ivy.”
"He really did," Tim says. "Before we went out tonight." He'd basically had to drag it out of Bruce, but he'd said it. "I'm sorry, I know that doesn't change things with the two of you, but--"
“I’m not coming back,” Jason says. “Don’t worry, your job is safe.” He looks pensive.
"I wasn't worried about that," Tim says. Not after yesterday. He knows Bruce is keeping him. "You okay?"
“Yeah,” says Jason finally. “I’m glad you can talk to him. I don’t think we could ever talk to him.” He looks down at his hands. “Probably he still won’t talk to me. Too bad, I have some good ideas about how he can spend all that money.”
"I kind of yelled at him," Tim says. "Maybe that will help." He grabs Jason's hand. "Sorry. I'll keep working on him till he builds a, a real mental health treatment center or something."
“That would be something,” Jason says. He rotates his shoulders and bounces in place. “Listen, forget him for a second. I told someone something too.”
"Oh yeah?" Tim feels a little spike of worry and tries to smooth it down.
“Yup,” Jason says. “I told my mom I’m seeing a nice boy.”
"Oh," Tim says. "Huh." He's probably not going to tell his Dad and Dana for a thousand years. "Was she--was that okay? I didn't know you had a mom." He straightens some of the gadgets on his belt so he doesn't have to look at Jason.
“Kind of,” Jason said. “My birth mom. I’m trying, anyway. But yeah, it was okay.” He smiles at Tim. “She said I’m supposed to bring you home, not just tell her out of nowhere.”
"Oh," Tim says again. "Okay, so...we should do that. I'd definitely do that. I haven't told my dad and stepmom yet, though." It's not that he thinks they'll care too much, but a boyfriend might give them another reason to worry.
“It’s okay,” says Jason. “We were figuring things out.” He tightens his grip on Tim’s hand. “I like you a lot,” he says.
"I like you too," Tim says. It makes him a little dizzy whenever he looks at Jason.
Jason beams at him. “Well,” he says. “I have to go do...something. Want to hang out tomorrow?”
"Yeah," Tim says. Tomorrow's a weekend, and he has the whole day free. "I'd love that. Um, see you." He leans in and kisses Jason, right there on the rooftop. If Bruce has come looking for him, that's not Tim's problem.
Jason grabs the front of Tim’s costume and pulls him in a little closer, for a second, before he lets him go.
“See ya,” he says, grinning, and then he goes running off.
Tim takes a minute to watch Jason go before flipping his radio back on. "All quiet over here, Batman," he says.