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We Can Work It Out

Tim sighed as he stepped into his apartment, shutting the door softly behind him. He paused long enough to toe off his shoes and shrug off his blazer before shuffling towards his couch. As he slumped down onto it, he let his eyes slide closed. Work had been brutal, and all Tim wanted was to crawl into bed and sleep for the next year. After he read those reports and worked on that presentation and checked those figures for tomorrow’s meeting—

He needed coffee.

Groaning, Tim stood and trudged towards the kitchen. Just as he decided on brewing a nice dark roast, he saw it.

There, sitting innocuously on his table was a bouquet of roses. Red roses. With a note.

Edging closer, Tim picked out the white card nestled amongst the flowers. In pristine, flowing script, it read,

My Apologies.

- D aGW

Tim stared. He read it again, but the text remained the same. What- What the hell, Damian? What was the demon brat up to now? Hadn’t he already made it clear how he (thefamilyBruceDad) already felt?

Or was this Dick’s doing? Had he found out what happened? Was he forcing Damian to play nice now? That would explain it. Except- Tim glanced at the flowers. Except Dick wouldn’t make him send a dozen red roses as an apology.

Sighing, he sagged into one of the kitchen chairs. He seriously did not need this on his plate right now.

What were the chances he could get away with pretending this had never happened? Tim ran his hands through his hair in frustration. As he debated leaving the whole mess for the morning, a thought occurred to him - If this is some kind of...some kind of prank. What would Damian be getting out of it? It’s not as though the little demon could see—

Damn it.

He should have thought of that sooner. See. Of course Damian would want to see how it played out. And given the position of the flowers and the layout of the kitchen, the optimal observation points would be...

Tim surged to his feet as his eyes darted to the most likely locations. Not the light, not the fridge, not the -

There!

Hidden within the bowl of fruit on his counter was a tiny camera, no larger than the head of a pin. He plucked it out before turning and striding back to the table. Snatching up the roses, he made his way to the garbage bin. Damian had gone too far this time.

He scowled and held the camera up to his face. “Stay out of my apartment, Damian,” he enunciated the words, displeasure obvious on his face. The camera was too small to have audio, but that didn’t matter. Damian could read lips as well as any of the...the family.

Tim crushed the camera between his fingers and dropped it into the trash, followed shortly by the bouquet of roses. Then he closed up the trash bag and placed it out in the hallway. He’d throw it out first thing...well, he’d take it out when he woke up in a few hours. It was already morning according to the clock on his wall.

He locked the door and began the tedious task of combing over his entire apartment and security system for any other little surprises Damian might have left.

Two hours passed, but his search yielded nothing. It was unsettling. Damian was not particularly good at subtle; he never had been. Tim could only imagine the hell his life would become if Damian ever managed to grasp the concept.

Finally, Tim decided to take a break. Just for a moment. Then he’d look at those papers and...

He didn’t remember falling asleep.

Roses for Timothy

***

Damian strode into the kitchen with his head held high. He was not sulking. Grayson had been inaccurate in his assessment when he kicked Damian out of the cave only a few minutes ago.

Damian was merely annoyed. Yes. That was all. He was annoyed at Drake for being an immature weakling who did not know how to accept kindness from his betters. Drake’s brazen rejection of Damian’s apology last night only proved the other’s deficient nature.

He did not actually care how Drake received his apology. He did not.

And Grayson had been out of line when he stopped Damian from completing his fifth hour of training. He had not been “overdoing it.” He was merely exercising. Furthermore, he most certainly did not appear “cute” when he pouted. Damian al Ghul Wayne did not pout. Nor was he cute.

He swung himself up onto one of the barstools at the island and glowered at the old man beating pieces of meat with an oddly shaped mallet.

“Is something the matter, Master Damian?” Pennyworth asked without turning to look at Damian.

The boy’s scowl darkened. “Your advice did not work, Pennyworth.”

The rhythmic pounding paused. “Oh?”

“The flowers, Pennyworth,” Damian snapped. “He did not appreciate them.”

“He?” The butler finally turned around to look at him.

Damian rolled his eyes. He was surrounded by morons. “Yes, he. Are you going deaf in your old age?”

“There’s no need to be rude, Master Damian.” The old man paused and tilted his head to the side consideringly. “If the flowers did not work, perhaps you should try a more, ah, personal approach.”

Vague, but potentially helpful. “What do you mean?”

“Well, what sorts of things does he like?”

Damian frowned. That. That was a good question. What did Drake like anyway? This was going to require research.

Sliding off his stool, he started for the door. There should be plenty of worthless, but sentimental trinkets in Drake’s room to give him some clues.

“Also, if I may young sir, how have you been addressing this young man?”

Damian paused, turning back. “What do you mean, Pennyworth? The same as I address everyone.”

“In that case, I would suggest that you call him by his first name.”

“Why would I do that?”

“It might help you to prove your intentions toward him have changed. Make you appear more approachable.”

Damian scoffed. “I do not wish to be more approachable.”

Smiling, Alfred turned back to the slabs of meat. “Of course not, Master Damian.”

***

Tim wandered into his apartment building at a little past nine in the evening. After an exceedingly long day at the office, he was exhausted. What he wouldn’t give to just go up to his apartment and crawl into bed. He hadn’t slept more than six hours in the past week, and he was starting to feel it. However, he still had to go out and do his rounds for the night. Crime doesn’t stop for a little thing like sleep.

Although, if he was lucky, he’d be able to squeeze in a short nap before heading out.

Waving to the night guard/clerk at the front desk, Tim shuffled towards the elevators with a yawn. He had just pressed the call button when he remembered he hadn’t checked his mail in a couple of days. Sighing, he doubled back to the mail room.

He stepped into the small room and went over to his box, fumbling for his keys as he did. After tugging his keys free from where they’d hidden in the folds of his wallet, he unlocked the little door and peered in.

That’s odd. Instead of an overflowing pile of bills and junk mail, there was only a large yellow envelope crammed inside. With a bit of twisting and tugging he managed to pull it out.

Inspecting it, Tim frowned. The only thing written on the package was a scrawled “Timothy”. No return address, no postage, not even his own address. Just “Timothy”.

Tim pondered the envelope as he strode out of the mail room and back towards the elevators, playing with the parcel as he went. The envelope was thin and light, pliable despite its mistreatment.

Stepping into the elevator, he hit the button for his floor. The moment the doors closed, he took his keys back out and used one to start cutting through the packing tape. Once it was open, he peeked inside. There was only a slim package covered in black plastic and what looked like a slip of paper.

Curious, he couldn’t help but reach inside and pull out the note.

He blamed the lack of sleep  for just how long it took him to process the words on the paper.

“To Timothy,

Someone cares about you an awful lot. Certainly went to a lot of trouble to get me to sign this. You’re a lucky guy.

Best wishes,
Stan Lee”

Tim stared. He read it again. And again. And again.

And finally it began to sink in.

Stan Lee. Stan Lee wrote me a letter. Tim frowned. Who the hell got Stan Lee to write me a letter?

The ding of the elevator announced that he’d reached his floor,

The ding of the elevator jarred him out of his baffled shock/musings/ruminations, and he quickly slid the note back inside the envelope.

Tim barely remembered getting into his apartment, disarming his security system, and locking up behind himself. But once he was inside, he couldn’t help but pull out the note again. Setting it aside, almost reverently, he turned to the rest of the envelope’s contents.

Reaching in, he pulled out what felt like a magazine. Or-

He tore open the black plastic cover and tipped out-

Holy fucking shit.

Marvel. Marvel #1. The first issue of Marvel comics is on his coffee table. Someone sent him one of the most expensive comics in the world.

And-

And it’s bent. That someone bent it.

Tim stared in horror at the incriminating crease. As he started to reach towards the issue, he recoiled and scrambled towards his lab. Gloves. He needed gloves. And maybe a mask. And a whole containment unit.

A quick trip to the Nest and he was able to move the comic safely to a sterilized containment unit. Then it was only a matter of slowly and carefully attempting to preserve the poor battered piece of history.

As he worked, Tim’s mind wandered back to the question of who on earth actually knew that he liked comics...and had enough money to buy this comic, but was asinine or uninformed enough to treat the comic so abysmally.

...And who had the means to get Stan Lee to write Tim a note.

It made no sense.

The old Young Justice group would probably know or guess, but none of them had the means. Bruce could also afford it, but Bruce probably didn’t remember. Dick had the money and knew, but it wasn’t his style and he had his hands full with-

Tim faltered, his eyes widening in dawning horror.

He forced himself to set his restoration tools down carefully, before he leapt up from his seat and rushed back into the living room. Scrambling over the sofa, he snatched the envelope off the coffee table.

Please be wrong, please be wrong.

He looked at the handwriting on the envelope again, but he already knew. It fit. It was the Demon brat.

Tim flopped back onto the couch, head throbbing with an oncoming headache. Why? What kind of taunting prank was worth that much money? Sure, it was chump change to the Wayne Family, but what on Earth was Damian trying to accomplish?

Was he rubbing his place as Bruce’s true child in Tim’s face again? Not that he needed to go the extra distance on that front. But...how did Damian even know this would affect Tim?

Tim hadn’t had time for comics in years. In fact, if Tim remembered correctly, all of his old comics were packed away in boxes, hidden in some forgotten corner of the closet of Tim’s room in the Manor...

Tim stilled. His hands tightened around the edges of the envelope as he stared darkly down at his Damian’s mocking scrawl of Timothy.

He didn’t.

The little Demon went into Tim’s room. Rifled through his things. For- for what? To hunt for weaknesses he could exploit? But what did this actually do? Tim could think of at least a half dozen better ways to attack himself.

This was just. What the hell, Damian?

Taking a deep breath, Tim set the envelope to the side and stood. He needed to sweep the apartment for bugs. Again. And then it was time to call in a new set of eyes.

Hopefully Babs wasn’t too busy.

Comics for Timothy

***

Babs watched as Tim paced back and forth beside her set of monitors, his hands raking through his hair again. “And then, and then the little monster bought me the very first issue of Marvel comics. I looked, it’s one of the rarest comics. Ever. And do you know what he did?” He paused, turning to her. “He crumpled it, Babs. Crumpled it.”

“Yes, Tim, so you’ve said.” Babs hid her smile behind her cup of coffee.

“Who does that?”

“Damian, apparently.”

Tim scowled at her. “He’s playing mind games with me. First the roses, now this. He’s trying to mess with my head and it’s working, dammit.”

“Mind games,” she said skeptically. “I think you might be overestimating the kid. Damian lacks the subtlety for that.”

“Do you have a better explanation?”

She paused, considering the question. “Honestly, if I didn’t know better, I’d say he had a crush on you.”

Tim stared at her, mouth agape in horror. “What part of this sounds like a crush to you?”

“What part of buying someone flowers and extravagant gifts doesn’t?”

Tim opened and closed his mouth, trying to think of a solid argument. “But. But, he’s only ten.”

“So he’s an early bloomer. It’s not that unusual for little kids to get crushes on people they look up to. Besides, he even addressed the package with your first name. He doesn’t call anyone by their first name. The more I think about it, the more it has to be a crush.”

Tim groaned, burying his face in his hands. “Hide me.”

“No, no. This is hilarious. Demonic puppy love.” Babs cackled with glee.

“Baaaaaabs,” Tim whined, curling in on himself.

“What? It’s cute! You’re his very first crush. It’s a momentous occasion.”

“A disaster, you mean.”

"No, a crush is a good sign,” she insisted. “It means Dick’s actually managing to socialize him. There may be hope for him yet."

“I’m all for rehabilitating the brat, but I’d rather not be involved. Especially not like this. Anyway, shouldn’t he be having a crush on, I don’t know, Dick? He actually likes him, at least. Do you know how many times the little monster has tried to kill me?”

“Don’t be like that, Tim. Love doesn’t always make sense. And the kid isn’t exactly skilled in the feelings department.” Grinning, she reached over and tugged at Tim’s hair. “It’s like he’s been pulling your pigtails this entire time.”

Tim swatted her hand away. “No no no, not the same thing.” He scowled. “And quit making fun of my hair. It’s not that long.”

Of course not,” she assured him with false sincerity. “Your cowl hair is as impressive as always, Rapunzel."

Tim made a face at her. "Gee, thanks."

Babs gave a little bow, flourishing her hand. “Oracle is always happy to oblige.”

Rolling his eyes, Tim abruptly strode over to the coffee pot. “Do you want any?” he asked as he pulled out the coffee grounds.

Picking up her mug, Babs made a face and downed the lukewarm dregs of her last caffeine hit before she handed him her cup. “Yes, please.”

Relieved that she was letting him dodge the miniature demon problem for the time being, Tim distracted himself with the familiar motions of working Babs’ precious coffee maker.

For a while the only sounds were the drizzle of the coffee, the tapping of Babs’ typing, and the gentle hum of the computers. When the coffee finished brewing, Tim poured the steaming hot liquid into Babs’ mug before pouring a cup for himself. He brought both their mugs over, setting hers in its usual spot, before settling on a nearby desk, content to watch her work.

Despite the coffee he was sipping, Tim found himself lulled into a bit of a stupor. Between the soothing sounds of the Clocktower and his lack of recent sleep, he was finding it hard to stay awake.

“So what are you going to do about the pipsqueak?”

Tim startled awake, nearly dropping his mug in the process.

“I’m going to ignore it,” he grumbled groggily as he scrubbed his eyes, trying to rouse himself.

She snorted. “Good plan, kiddo. That’s definitely going to work.”

The thought of that plan not working was enough to wake Tim up completely. “It’s simple. When he sees I’m not reciprocating he’ll get the message and move on. Years from now this will be just a horrible memory that you’ll remind us of for your own twisted pleasure.”

Babs smirked before sipping at her mug of coffee. “I think you’re underestimating the brat. He’s not going to give up that easily.”

“Yeah, right. You can’t have a crush on someone who isn’t there. I’ll just do some work outside of Gotham, and by the time I get back this will all be over.”

Babs smirked. “Is that a hint?”

He gave her an innocent look. “It might be.”

“Uh huh. Use your words, Timothy.”

Tim clasped his hands, looking over-earnest. “Oh great and wonderful Oracle, please, oh please, send me away from this dark and gloomy place with your awesome technomagic powers.”

He swatted away the ball of paper the great and wonderful Oracle threw at his head.

Laughing, she turned back to her screens and brought up a few case files. “Oh fine. Cass could use some help in Hong Kong. Your plane leaves tomorrow morning.”

***

Bruce registered the sound of the door to his study opening, but only looked up long enough to identify Alfred before delving back into his work. He needed to get through these financial reports before his...evening shift.

“Your coffee, Sir,” Alfred said as he placed a cup wafting a heavenly deep roast at Bruce’s elbow.

“Thank you, Alfred,” Bruce said with a small smile before returning to his work. But as he moved on to the next report, he noticed Alfred lingering in front of his desk. Interest piqued, Bruce leaned back in his chair and folded his hands in front of him. “Something on your mind?”

Alfred cleared his throat. “You may have noticed, Master Bruce, that Master Damian is reaching the stage where he will begin to experience many changes in his body. As his father, you should be aware - ”

Bruce waved his hand, eyes already refocused on his screen. “Yes, yes, I’ve prepared for that, Alfred. Damian’s five year training plan takes into account his projected growth and hormone changes, with room for adjustments as needed. Just as all of my other children’s did.”

“I am not talking about training regimes,” Alfred interrupted kindly. “Master Damian is entering a time in his life when he will start to feel certain urges.”

Bruce’s mind screeched to a halt. Certain...urges?

“It is only natural that he will have questions. Questions he will look to his father to answer.”

Bruce looked up at Alfred, eyebrow raised. “He’s only ten.”

“On the contrary, sir, you were about the same age when you - ”

Groaning, Bruce scrubbed his hands over his face before meeting Alfred’s eyes. “Alfred, are you sure?”

“He’s already come to me for advice on the matter.”

Bruce stiffened, paling. “Who-”

“I do not know, Sir. He has been very closed mouthed on the subject,” Alfred paused, hesitant. “What I do know is that whomever Master Damian is interested in is a lucky young man.”

Bruce’s eyes widened.

“And we will all do our best to show our support, won’t we, Master Bruce?” Alfred continued, staring pointedly at him.

“Oh, ah, um...Of course. Yes. We will.” Bruce offered Alfred an awkward smile.

“Indeed, Sir,” Alfred said as he turned and walked toward the door. He paused on the threshold and glanced back, a wry grin tugging at his mouth. “Do practice your supportive expression in the mirror. It needs a bit of work.” And then he was gone.

Bruce turned back to his computer with a wince, financial reports now the furthest thing from his mind. Information. He needed more information about...this.

It was a simple matter to access Damian’s computer and track his recent online behavior. Most of what Bruce found was typical of his son’s normal behavior except for two unique purchases. A dozen red roses...and an absurd amount of money on a...comic book? Bruce hadn’t realized Damian even knew what comics were.

Frowning, Bruce began to delve deeper into Damian’s movements on and offline over the past few weeks. There had been no mail receipts, so Damian had either paid in cash or, more likely, delivered them in person. Facial recognition and tracking revealed that Damian had only deviated from his normal patterns in a few unique cases. Once for a sudden trip to New York City that followed right after the purchase of the comic and then again when Damian went to... Tim’s apartment complex?

Dread started to build in the bottom of his stomach. He went back, back through the records, back to the day Damian bought the flowers.

And there he was. At Tim’s apartment complex.

Bruce pushed his chair back and pinched the bridge of his nose.

Certainly there was a reasonable explanation for this. There must be. One that didn’t involve his sons. Not...not like that.

Alfred’s pointed words from earlier come back to him. Supportive. Right.

It...technically it wasn’t incest.

Bruce buried his face in his hands. His boys never made anything easy.

Alfred chose that moment to bustle into the study carrying a covered tray.

“I’ve prepared you a light dinner, Master Bruce-”

“Tim.”

Alfred paused. “I beg your pardon?”

Tim,” Bruce repeated. “That’s who Damian has a crush on. It’s Tim.”

“Oh my.” Alfred sat down heavily in the chair across from Bruce’s desk, tray still clutched in his hands. “Well, that does complicate matter slightly.”

“Slightly?” Bruce said. He was only now getting over the surprise enough to start considering contingency plans. Tim would probably turn Damian down.

Bruce wasn’t quite ready to think about what would happen if Tim didn’t.

But no, Tim would turn him down, would probably even be nice about it. Although, how Damian would take that is another question entirely. He would accept it, though. Eventually. And then he could move on. They could all move on.

And hopefully forget this had ever happened.

In the meantime, there was one thing Bruce was sure of.

Bruce locked eyes with Alfred. “We’re not telling Dick.”

“Master Richard’s helpful exuberance may...be a bit much for Master Damian at such a turbulent time in his young life,” Alfred agreed.

Bruce nodded. “And what about us?”

“We, Master Bruce, will let events run their course and offer our support should either of them need it.”

***

Damian stormed into his room and threw himself into his desk chair. First Dra- Timothy went away to Hong Kong, and now Father was acting...odd.

He was more distant than ever, despite Grayson’s reassurances that their relationship would improve with time. On the few occasions Father had actually spoken to him the past few days, he had been… odd really was the only word for it. Each incident was preceded by either a bout of brooding or a meaningful look from Pennyworth. The behavior was never quite so consistent and ranged from a truly terrifying attempt to discuss human reproduction to a cryptic lecture about local legislature. The weirdest incident of them all involved a bizarre digression into the mating habits of animals. What did penguins or frogs have to do with anything?

It wasn’t fair. Damian hadn’t even done anything, and now it was impossible to get anything done in the Manor when Father was around. And the Cave was off limits while Grayson was in town on a case, leaving Damian’s room as his only refuge.

Grumbling, Damian shoved his laptop open. Might as well salvage the rest of the evening with more research.

That decided, he unlocked his computer and pulled up the surveillance footage he’d steadily been working his way through. Dra - Timothy was an astoundingly boring person, as Damian had always known, but watching the footage detailinghis daily movements was proving to be even more dull than expected. Damian had never seen someone so infuriatingly consistent.

Every day was the same. Timothy always arrived at Wayne Enterprises no later than eight and left no earlier than seven in the evening. He would then spend roughly two hours in his “Nest” before going out on patrol until four in the morning. Then he would return to his apartment and reemerge to start his routine all over again, bright and early.

Weekends were not all that different. Timothy even went in to work on Saturday. There were several instances of Timothy attempting to go in on Sundays, only to be kicked out by the security guards. He would then dutifully return to his apartment and work from there.

Despite Grayson’s many stories about Timothy’s time with the Titans and his apparent abundance of friends, it seemed that Timothy led a mostly solitary life. Though Timothy was a truly awkward person. His poor social skills were painful to see. Perhaps he enjoyed his solitude.

And then Grayson ruined everything with his coddling. Damian viciously jabbed at his keyboard and started the next video. If he had just left Dra- Timothy alone, none of this would have happened. Father would not be awkward, Dr- Timothy would not be in China, I would be solving another case down in the Batcave-

He paused, shoulders hunching. And Grayson would not look nearly so weary.

Damian scowled. It was truly irritating to see Grayson so concerned about nothing at all. Drake was a fully grown man who was perfectly capable of taking care of himself even if all he seemed to do was eat, sleep and work.

He paused. Well, Drake certainly worked. And Damian has seen him eat. Some. And he did sleep in the surveillance videos. Even if he only slept three and a half hours on this particular night. He wasn’t any worse than the rest of them. They all had their bad nights.

Frowning, Damian brought up Dra-Timothy’s patrol notes for the night, but, no, nothing but a routine patrol.

Damian pulled up the footage for the next night. Dra-Timothy only got three hours of sleep, and, again, the patrol notes indicated nothing of interest beyond a few drug busts.

Perhaps, it was simply a bad week. He jumped to the weekend. Drake would certainly make up for these nights at some point. He had to. But Damian had watched enough footage. He already knew what he would find. Dra-Timothy heading into work bright and early Saturday morning after pulling an all-nighter. The only change in routine was Drake skipping lunch to take a brief nap.

While Dra-Timothy probably needed the sleep, missing meals was unacceptable. Any fool would know that. And Drake had hardly had the most nutritious breakfast, merely bringing a travel mug of coffee and a protein bar with him to work.

And that was it. He didn’t get any more sleep until another quick nap after dinner and before he had to head out on patrol.

...Just how much did Drake actually sleep? Or eat for that matter?

This was going to require more research.

It took depressingly little time for Damian to collect the pertinent information on Timothy’s sleeping and eating habits from a combination of surveillance footage and Drake’s financial records. In the process, he came across Drake’s medical expenditures. After noting how many of these appeared in the records, he added them to his data pool as well. The results of this analysis were...statistically significant, to say the least.

It didn’t matter if Damian sampled from this month, last month, even a year ago. Drake was neither eating nor sleeping enough, and the amount of medical supplies he bought for his safe houses on a monthly basis was disproportionately large when compared to the rest of the family’s.

By all accounts, Drake should hardly be functioning in this state, much less keeping up with Dami- the family.

Regardless, Grayson had obviously been remiss. The situation was much worse than Grayson had led Damian to believe. Dra-Timothy’s acceptance of his apology, while still a matter of importance, was no longer the priority. His behavior was unacceptable, a disgrace to the Wayne family name, and needed to be rectified.

***

Tim followed Cass through the window into her safehouse, but leaned back out again and called out a sarcastic “Good night.” Then he slammed the window shut with his good arm and pulled the shade down for good measure.

Cass side-eyed him, lips twitching into a grin.

“Every night,” Tim said. He reached up and released the clasp of his cape, revealing the unnatural slope of his dislocated shoulder. “Useless ninja babysitters. Every single night.”

“Here,” Cass said, gesturing towards the single bed with one hand as she took off her mask and then her cape with the other. “I will help.”

Tim shot her an amused look, an eyebrow quirking as he drolled, “Oh, Cass, this is all so sudden. I’m not sure I’m ready for the next stage in our relationship.”

Cass’ answering grin was less than comforting. “I will be gentle.” She pulled off her gloves and set them down beside her cape and mask.

“I appreciate that, I really do.” Tim rolled his eyes, walking past her. The safehouse was a one room studio apartment, so he didn’t have to go far to reach the bed. Knowing the drill from many previous experiences, Tim sat down, pulled off the glove on his good hand with his teeth. He tried to take off the other one, but quickly gave up and laid back. His good mood dissipated, his injury bringing his thoughts back to their patrol. He grumbled up at the ceiling as he adjusted himself so that his right arm and shoulder were handing over the edge. “I bet he’s already sent his little ‘report’.”

“He is consistent,” she said, coming to stand by his side. She helped him take off his other glove and then took his hand in hers.

“How is this even my life, Cass?” he complained as he readied himself.

Cass tightened her grip on his hand, placed her foot against his chest for added leverage and began to pull slowly and steadily on his arm. “You will survive,” she said.

Tim gritted his teeth. “I don’t think I can survive - ah - any more of Damian’s caring. Damn ninjas. Such a distraction.”

“Stephanie says it is the thought that counts most.” Cass kept her hold on his arm.

“First it was gifts. Now it’s ninjas. There’s - shit, ow - clearly thought involved. And it’s going to kill me.”

“Hmm, it will take more than presents to kill Red Robin.”

“I appreciate the vote of confidence, Cass, I really do, but I think I’ve found my breaking point.”

“Melodramatic, much?” Cass raised an eyebrow at him.

“Now that was a Steph-ism if I’ve ever heard one.” Tim grinned despite himself and the pain. “And I am not being melodramatic.”

“Sisterly bonding is a thing,” Cass informed him seriously. “And you are.”

“Are not,”

“Are, too.” Cass grinned down at him. “And cliché.”

“Duck season,” Tim said and stuck out his tongue at her, before grunting in pain. “And cliches are cliche for a reason.”

“Bunny season,” Cass said.

“Rabbit season, actually, though that’s pretty - ah - close,”

Cass cocked her head to the side, brow furrowed slightly in thought. After a moment, she nodded. “Bugs Bunny is a rabbit and a bunny.”

“Yep.”

“So, you agree then.”

“Huh?”

“You were being melodramatic.” She grinned down at him all the while still putting steady pressure on his arm.

Any reply he might have made was cut off as his shoulder popped painfully back into place.

“Fucking hell,” Tim cursed, his left hand coming to clutch at his shoulder as Cass let his other hand go. He clenched and unclenched his right hand, wincing at the remaining ache. “That’s better,” he muttered to himself in relief.

“Are you okay?” Cass asked.

“Well enough.” Tim tried rolling his shoulder but aborted the motion with a grimace. He looked up at her with a quirked eyebrow, trying not to smirk. “I thought you promised to be gentle.”

“I was gentle. I did not use my father’s method of relocation,” Cass said, stepping back and turning to leave. “I’ll get some ice for you.”

Tim didn’t want to know how Cass’s bastard father thought shoulders should be fixed. With a grimace, he managed to push himself up into a seated position as he listened to Cass rattle around in the kitchen before hearing the distinct thock of  the freezer opening. He glanced around the small studio apartment and caught sight of the safehouse’s spare laptop on the coffee table in front of an overstuffed couch.

The scrape of metal scooping up ice began as Tim got to his feet and carefully walked to the couch, doing his best not to jar his shoulder as he went. He sank down onto the couch and opened the laptop with his good hand.

He turned the computer on, logged in, and brought up his email. He sighed. There it was, as expected. His daily “evaluation” from the little demon. Tim cleared his throat and began to read aloud for Cass’s benefit, as had become their post-mission tradition these past few days.

“Dear Timothy.” Tim cringed at the address. “Timothy, Ugh. Can you believe this, Cass? I preferred him calling me Dra- Jesus,” Tim swore as Cass plopped a bag of ice on his shoulder. “Little warning?”

Cass knelt on the cushion next to him. “He never called you that. Now keep reading, I want to hear the good stuff,” she said as she started wrapping the ice in place.

“That’s not - ” He sighed. “Whatever. The brat continues by saying ‘It has come to my attention’ - that’s demonspeak for ‘my ninja spies told me so.” Cass laughed and shook her head bemusedly as she continued securing the ice. Tim smirked and continued, “It has come to my attention that despite previous advisement on how to best assure your continued survival, you continue to insist on maintaining suboptimal habits.

“And here we go. Today he’s decided to actually count the number of times I didn’t have perfect form. And then he-” Tim paused, frowning. “Jeez this kid is creepy. I thought we finally got him out of the security feeds?” He reeled back with dawning horror. “Is he actually having the ninjas spy on me while I sleep?”

When that didn’t get a laugh from Cass, he turned to look at her. She met his gaze with a surprisingly serious expression. “Are you okay?” he asked.

She frowned and shook her head. “What else does he say?”

Tim blinked. “Oh, well.” He glanced down at the email. “The usual. He calculated the number of calories I consumed today and found the amount deficient. He wants to feed me! Ugh. Then he berates me for doing my job and being distracted by his ninjas, though he does commend me for recognizing my own incompetence and relying on a more competent partner, namely yourself. But he clearly thinks that he should be the one doing that. And...shit.”

“What?”

“‘This behavior is unacceptable and an embarrassment to the family,’” Tim read. “‘Surely in your years as Robin you were taught better than to treat your life so cavalierly. If not for your own sake, then for the sake of the lives of those who depend on you.’”

Tim gaped at the screen before slamming the laptop shut. Turning to Cass he hissed, “Is he saying he’s dependent on me?”

“We all are,” Cass said, not filled with nearly as much supportive outrage or good humor as he expected.

“That’s not the kind of dependent he’s talking about, Cass. This crush was supposed to get more manageable with distance, not less!”

Cass frowned. “He’s right, though. You’ve been taking more risks lately. Unnecessary ones.”

Tim groaned, easing back into the couch. “You too? We risk our lives every night. We know that every time we go out we might not come home.”

“Yes, but you never plan to come home. Don’t lie. I can see you.”

Cass’ gaze bore into him, as Tim stammered out, “No, that’s ridiculous, I-”

Tim’s voice caught as Cass placed her hand over Tim’s heart. “Don’t lie.”

Unable to meet her eyes, Tim looked away, his eyes latching onto a particularly interesting spot on the far wall. “What do you want from me, Cass?”

Cass shifted and carefully wrapped her arms around him. Tim stiffened in surprise at the embrace before sighing and allowing himself to relax into her hold. “I want you to know it’s not okay if you don’t come back.”

Tim sucked in a breath. His throat bobbed, his eyes squeezed shut as he hugged Cass tightly with his good arm.

Tim sucked in a breath. His eyes burned with tears he tried to swallow back. He pulled Cass closer with his good arm, eyes squeezing shut. “I think I needed to hear that.”

Cass brought her hand up, carding her fingers through his hair. “Anytime, little brother.”

Ninjas for Timothy

***

Three days after the shoulder dislocation incident, Timothy returned from Hong Kong.

Damian was pleased that Timothy had taken a break from patrols during that time, no doubt due to Cassandra’s insistence. Unfortunately, Timothy had also chosen to remain mostly out of sight, which made monitoring his health/recovery a challenge. The ninjas had provided adequate reports but were a hassle to deal with, and his own personal observations were so much more reliable than the subjectiveness of third party individuals.

He had been looking forward to the opportunity to personally handling observations once again. However, Timothy had made this plan difficult by going thoroughly to ground upon his return.

Any immediate progress on the question of Timothy’s whereabouts was forestalled by Grayson’s presence in the Cave. Damian had not forgotten that his own poor behavior had led to this, but thus far Grayson did not seem aware of either Damian’s apologies or Timothy’s refusals.

Hopefully Timothy would be more accepting once Damian had seen to it that he was actually looking after his basic needs.

For the time being, though, Grayson’s presence was just another reminder of how poorly Damian’s efforts were going. And his Father’s awkward lurking in the background was definitely not helping matters. Something odd was going on with both Pennyworth and his Father. Damian would focus on figuring that out after Timothy had been dealt with.

In the meantime, there was always casework.

Damian was just considering an improvement to his search algorithm when Timothy, escorted by Pennyworth, entered the Cave.

Pennyworth glanced over to Damian before he turned and murmured something to Timothy. Surprise flickered over Tim’s face, but Pennyworth was already heading back up to the Manor.

“Tim!” Grayson called out, bounding over to him.

“Hey, Dick.” Timothy smiled.

“It’s good to see you,” Grayson said. He reached for a hug, hesitated halfway through the motion, and clasped Timothy’s shoulders instead.

Damian watched intently as Timothy winced ever so slightly at the weight on his bad shoulder, before covering his reaction with a strained smile.

Grayson pulled back as Father materialized from the shadow, both watching Tim with looks of concern.

Damian only half listened to the ensuing discussion in which Timothy convinced no one that he was in an adequate state of health. A distracted Timothy made a much easier target to observe and Damian wanted the chance to assess Timothy in person for the first time.

The cameras had not lied, Timothy was indeed underweight, something that must be rectified. His time with Cassandra seemed to have done him some good, though. The circles under his eyes were no longer quite as pronounced and the sickly pall that had seemed to hang over him had diminished. These were subjective and ill-defined measures of well-being, but they were encouraging nonetheless.

Timothy did seem to be especially tense as he spoke to Father and Grayson, beyond what Damian would expect given Timothy’s recent interactions with them. Damian observed Timothy conversing, watching the minute shifts in posture and gestures. And there it was once, and then again. Damian’s eyes narrowed.

Timothy was favoring his left side.

Silently stepping away from his computer, Damian slowly walked towards the cluster of Timothy, Grayson and Father. He made sure to stay out of Timothy’s line of sight. Father caught sight of Damian immediately, a strange look coming over his face before he quickly looked back down at Timothy and said nothing. One mystery at a time, Damian thought to himself. He would try to make peace with his Father after he had resolved the situation with Timothy.

He stopped just behind his target and sniffed the air experimentally. He caught the faint scent of Timothy Wayne’s cologne, but nothing more.

Damian shuffled to Timothy’s left, bending in to sniff closer. Yes, there it was, the faint smell of blood and antiseptic.

“What the hell, Damian?” Timothy yelped and twisted away. He hissed, clutching at his left side, and stumbled back into Grayson. “Were you- were you sniffing me?”

So that was where the wound was.

“Hey, Tim, you okay?” Grayson asked, hand hovering but not touching Timothy.

“Clearly not,” muttered Damian.

“I thought you said you hurt your shoulder?” Grayson continued over Damian.

“I did. And it’s fine,” Timothy said, waving his hand dismissively. He shot Damian an odd look, as he started edging towards the Manor stairs. “Look, I need to head out-”

“But, Tim-”

“It’s been great seeing you all-”

“At least let Alfred-”

“We should do it again sometime,” Timothy finished with a practiced smile before hurrying back up the stairs.

Grayson attempted to lunge after Timothy, but Father grabbed hold of Grayson’s arm before he could get farther than a step.

Grayson turned to Father, affronted. “Are you just going to let him leave?”

“Tim can take care of himself,” Father said gruffly.

Damian snorted. “Hardly.”

“Damian, be nice,” Grayson said, breaking away from Father’s hold. “Whether or not Tim can take care of himself is not the problem. He needs to know he can come to us.

“And Tim knows what he needs to come to us for,” Father growled before slipping off into the shadows of the cave.

Grayson took a step in the direction Father went before sighing and shaking his head. “What a mess,” he said quietly.

Damian tried to think of something to say, and finally settled on a tentative, “I did not mean…”

“I know you don’t like Tim, Dami, but don’t you think that was going a bit far? He’s injured.”

“I was only trying…” Damian paused, looking down. “I am trying.”

Dick’s hand settled heavily on his head. “I know you are, Little D. I know you are.”

‘Time to call in reinforcements,’ Damian decided silently.

***

Tim had just finished settling on his couch and positioning a bag of ice on his injured shoulder when he heard the lock on his front door click open. He tensed momentarily, worried that Damian might have gotten a copy of his key, but then the door slid open a familiar voice called out, “Anybody home?”

“In here, Steph,” he called out as he took his laptop out of its case and set it on the coffee table in front of him.

She strode into the main living area and plopped onto the couch beside him, letting her bag fall to the floor at her feet. “Cass was not kidding about that shoulder,” she said, giving him a once over. “Though she definitely didn’t mention that.” She gestured at the cut down his side.

Tim grimaced. “It looks worse than it is. I got overconfident and went out again before I was fully recovered. Learned that lesson.”

Steph rolled her eyes. “We can only hope it sticks this time.”

“I’ll do my best,” Tim said, dryly.

An easy silence stretched between them as Tim settled into working. But Tim could feel her gaze on him, steady and waiting. It was only a matter of time until -

“Are you really okay?” she asked.

“Why wouldn’t I be?” Tim said, still focused on his work.

“Certain parties seemed...concerned about you. And had a lot of evidence to back up that concern.”

Normally Tim would assume she was talking about Dick or maybe Alfred. But given the number of “concerned” emails he’d been getting from a certain demon with a crush… Tim groaned. “Oh no. Don’t tell me he talked to you.”

"Come on, Tim. Give the kid some slack. He's trying really hard."

"Steph, I don't like that little monster!.” The words exploded from his mouth, fueled by untempered frustration. “Can we just leave it at that?"

She reached over and snapped his laptop shut. "Tim, you're being completely unreasonable! He's changed a lot!"

"I think the trying to kill me thing kind of overshadows anything else, don't you? Why are you on his side now?"

Steph raised an eyebrow, shooting him a look of fond exasperation. "I”m on your side, but I think he has some good points. Anyway, Jason's tried to kill you before and you team up with him now and then."

"That's a little bit different, Steph," Tim hedged.

"How is it different? Damian has even less experience with all of this than Jason. You do so well with Jason, why not Damian, too?"

Tim's eyes widened. She couldn’t think - "No, no! That- no! Jason and I are not like that! We've done some work together. That's it. Strictly professional."

Steph frowned. "Really? That’s all? 'Cause from the way you’ve talked, it sounded like you were both getting pretty friendly."

He blanched. Did she really think that he and Jason were like that? Why? Where on Earth would she get that idea?

"Geez, Tim. I don't know why you're so worked up about this," Steph said, relaxing back into the couch.

Tim took the ice pack off his shoulder and set it on the coffee table in front of him. "Well, I don't know how you can be so calm about this."

Steph shook her head. “Because it’s not that big of a deal. How hard is it to be a little bit nicer and take his concerns to heart? You’re hurting the poor kid’s feelings!”

Tim turned to her, scowling. “His feelings! What about my feelings? Don’t I get a say in all this?”

“Of course you do. But he’s only ten, Tim. Ten,” she stressed. “You could at least pretend to care.”

“I’m sorry, Steph. I don’t like him, and he shouldn’t think that I do.”

“But he doesn’t have to think you hate him. You’re still going to have to work together. And what you have right now? Isn’t working.”

“No,” Tim admitted, “it’s not.” Hong Kong had proven that well enough.

Steph elbowed him cajolingly. "C’mon, how would you feel in his position?"

Tim grumbled. "I'd get the message..."

Steph glared.

"Fine.” He rolled his eyes. “I'll try and be nicer to the kid. But could you tell him to tone it down? Since you’re apparently his emissary?"

"That's fair.” Steph smiled and poked him lightly in the side. “Now, don't let me catch you out on patrol with a wound like that. You could really hurt yourself, Tim."

"It's not that big of a deal."

Steph raised an eyebrow at him, incredulous. She grabbed his ice pack off the table and plopped it back onto his shoulder. Then, before he could stop her, she snatched his laptop off the coffee table.

”Hey!” he protested. “I have work to do!”

“All work and no play makes Tim a dull boy wonder,” she sing-songed as she stuffed his laptop under the couch. “Now.” She grinned at him and reached for the remote. “Movie?”

He sighed. “Fine.”

“You make a movie night sound like torture,” Steph complained.

“I have a lot on my plate...but I wouldn’t call this torture.”

“Oh? Then what would you call it?”

“Time with a friend. I missed this.

Steph smiled, curling up beside him and began flipping through the channels on the TV. “So we’re doing sap tonight, eh? Lifetime movies it is.”

Tim pulled her close, grinning. “I take it back, I didn’t miss this at all.”

“Aww, you know you love it,” she said. “And look, it’s a Christmas special.”

“It’s not even winter anymore.”

“Where’s your Christmas spirit, Tim?”

“Hibernating.”

“Don’t be such a Scrooge. Come on, say it with me, ‘God bless us, everyone.’”

Tim groaned. “Can we please just watch the movie.”

“That’s the spirit.”

***

Tim glowered at the unconscious, zip-stripped bodies of the gang he had been quietly investigating for months. They were the key to breaking a drug ring that sprawled from Gotham to Star City. And now here they were. Tied up all pretty for the police and with the proof of their connections in a handy USB drive.

But Tim hadn’t done it.

The stupid note clenched in his hand told him who he had to thank for this...gift.

Go home and sleep, Timothy. You’re of no use to anyone as you are.

Ugh. His blood boiled at the words. He may be injured, but he wasn’t helpless. He could have checked in on these idiots without any trouble. And he was certainly not going home.

Swinging around the city was not an option thanks to his shoulder and side. He couldn’t believe he’d been caught off guard by a single goon trying to rob a grocery store and managed to re-injure himself. He could still drive his RR Cycle, though, and he would not let Damian derail his case so easily.

He had an old friend to visit.

***

“Evening, Commissioner,” Red Robin said as he materialized from the shadows of Jim Gordon’s office.

Gordon startled, but regained his equilibrium quickly. “Red Robin.” He nodded in greeting. “I thought you might stop by.”

Tim eyed him warily. “You did?”

Gordon looked up at him. “You might even say a little bird told me.”

Oh no. First Steph, now Gordon?

“And what exactly did that little bird tell you?” He tried very hard to keep his voice pleasant.

“Hmm,” Gordon said unhelpfully, turning to look at Red Robin properly. “Well, you don’t seem to be on your deathbed. That’s encouraging.”

Tim grimaced. “I’m fine.”

“He said you would say that, but he didn’t have to. You bats are always fine, even when you aren’t,” the Commissioner noted shrewdly.

Tim crossed his arms, careful of his injuries, stance widening defensively. “We need to be.”

Gordon sighed. “I knew you would say that, too. But you know me. I’m a father, I worry.”

Tim relaxed, biting back on the warm smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. “I appreciate that, Commissioner. But there are still some dangerous elements on the loose, and I can’t let anyone else get hurt. Do you have any intel on the Black Jack Gang?”

Gordon leaned back in his chair, eyeing Red Robin speculatively. “And if I say they’ve been taken care of?”

“I’d say that I’d like to check on it myself.”

Gordon gave him another dubious once over before nodding and handing over a USB drive. “Fair enough. I can sympathize with wanting to see a case through. But go easy on yourself, kid. There’s plenty of Gotham to go around.”

***

After two boring nights of following Robin’s annoyingly perfect paper and goon trails through the city, Red Robin took extreme measures and put in a call to the one person that wouldn’t be swayed by violence or Tim’s well-being.

The following night, Red Robin headed for their scheduled rendezvous point, keeping an eye out for interfering little brats as he went.

Rooftop meetings were a tad cliché in their line of work, but they were cliche for a reason. Plenty of space, low chance of interruption, and a great aesthetic. What more could a vigilante ask for? Unfortunately, not being able to swing meant that Tim had to get there by less glamorous means.

By the time he crested the top of the fire escape, his associate was already there.

“Hood.” Tim nodded.

Jason smirked. “Poor little bird,” he said and gestured to the fire escape with his cigarette. “Looks like someone clipped your wings.”

Tim pursed his lips in annoyance. “Do you have the information I asked for?”

“Right down to business tonight, then? Where’s your sense of brotherly love?”

Grimacing, Tim crossed his arms. “Brotherly love is the last thing I want to talk about right now.”

“Ouch,” Jason said, flicking his cigarette away. “You know, that really stings, Replacement. Right here,” He placed his hand over his heart with a dramatic flourish.

“You’ll forgive me if I don’t -” Tim’s proximity meter beeped. Damian was within two miles of their position. “Shit,” he cursed. “Not now.”

Jason tensed, eyes scanning the rooftops for incoming danger. “What is it?”

“No time,” Tim said, turning back to the fire escape. He could make it.

“Oh no you don’t.” Jason’s hand curled around Tim’s bicep, vice tight. “What the hell is incoming?”

“You’ll be fine, Jason.” Tim grabbed Jason’s wrist and tried to jerk his arm away. “Now let me go.”

“Like I’m going to believe that.”

The proximity meter beeped twice. One mile.

No time to run. Time for plan B. “Believe what you want.” Tim let go of Jason’s wrist and twisted around behind Jason, breaking the hold on his bicep as he went. “Now just...” Tim inched to the side, behind Jason. With Damian’s regular patrol and his speed of approach he should be coming from over there and “...don’t move.”

“The fuck is wrong with you, Pretender?” Jason said, twisting to try and face Tim.

“What part of don’t move is so hard to understand?” Tim said, grabbing Jason’s shoulders and turning him back around. “Now face forward and look busy.”

“The fuck?”

“Shut up. I’m not here. I’ve never been here. You haven’t seen me all night,” Tim instructed as he gathered up his cape and pulled it tight around himself so there was no chance of a passing breeze ruining his hiding spot.

“Fucking hell. You’ve gone crazy,” Jason grumbled. But he got out his lighter and a new cigarette and with a few flicks lit it.

He took a long slow drag and exhaled a gusty cloud of smoke. “You’d tell me if we were about to die.” It was less a question and more of a statement.

Tim resisted the urged to gag at the acrid smell of the smoke. “Yes,” he hissed quietly. “Trust me, you’re not in any danger.”

“But you are,” Jason muttered back.

“I’m not here. Stop talking to me,” Tim said.

Jason went obligingly silent, proceeding to make an awful cloud of putrid smoke as they waited. “Well, well, well,” Jason said conversationally after a few good puffs. “Looks like the little demon is out without an escort again.”

Tim winced, shuffling closer to Jason to make sure he was completely hidden, and said nothing.

“And he just flies on by,” Jason continued, “All of these family feelings tonight are getting to be too much. I don’t know if I can take it.”

Tim refused to breathe a sigh of relief until the proximity meter beeped to inform him that Damian was two miles away again. Then he stepped out from behind Jason, letting his cape drop as he did, and took a wonderful breath of fresh Gotham air.

“You gonna tell me what that was all about?” Jason said, turning to face Tim and flicking ash at him.

“Don’t worry about it,” Tim said. “Let’s just do what we came here for so we can both get on with our nights.”

“Oh I’m sorry,” Jason said before puffing smoke into Tim’s face. “Does this look like concern? What the fuck just happened?”

“Damn it, Jason. Look, I’m very thankful for your help-”

“Damn straight. You owe me one,” Jason interrupted.

 “-but if we could just move on to our business...” Tim trailed off, giving Jason a pointed look as he crossed his arms stubbornly.

Jason eyed Tim appraisingly. Taking one last drag, he flicked his cigarette away. “Fine. But I will find out what’s going on, Replacement. Count on it.”

***

Tim came up from his Red Robin’s Nest and into his apartment, turning on lights as he went. He was exhausted and patrol had been frustrating, but at least he had cleared up a couple of things.

He trudged towards the kitchen. Time to get a cup of coffee before settling in for a long night of trawling through cases for new leads.

Tim flicked on the lights and startled back, arms raised defensively. There, sitting at his kitchen counter calmly as you please eating a carton of Ramen, was Jason.

"Hey, there's no Demon brat around hunting for your virginity, Pretender. So relax." Jason gestured with his spoon, “Also, your Ramen is stale. I didn’t even know that was possible.”

"I. You. Jason," Tim spluttered.

"That's my name, don't wear it out," Jason sing-songed with obvious delight.

Tim’s eyes narrowed as he edged around towards the coffee maker. "What do you even want?"

Jason scoffs. "What, you think you could act so weirdly and leave it like that?"

"...Yes?" Tim said, expression turning hopeful.

"No, no, no,” Jason said, shaking his head. “You got me all curious. I had to investigate. It’s in the blood, you see."

"So what, you'd thought you'd stop by for milk and cookies?" Tim ground out.

"Not my style.” Jason tapped his Ramen bowl with his spoon and grinned. “I am up for story time, though."

Tim finally reached the coffee maker and began making coffee. "What are you, five?"

"Nah, thirteen at least. I like my big boy stories.” Jason set his chin on his hands. “Now spill."

Tim raised a skeptical eyebrow at Jason, before pointedly turning back to the coffee maker.

"Well, if you're not up for story time, maybe your little prince charming is?” Jason took out his communicator with a flourish.” I'm sure he'd be happy to share."

"No! Stop!" Tim whirled away from the coffee maker and lunged for the device.

Jason held his communicator high in the air, waving it out of Tim’s reach. "Start talkin', Babybird."

Tim clenched his fists, mutinously staring Jason down, before grinding out, "What do you even want to know?"

"Oh, everything. But I'll settle for how this started. Is he leaving corpses as presents outside your place or something?"

"No, just..." Tim trailed off, bringing a hand up over his face and grimacing.

"I can't hear you Pretender."

"He gave me flowers," Tim blurted out.

Jason threw his head back and howled with laughter.

Tim looked around for something to throw. "It's not funny!"

"Were they roses?” Tim’s scowl deepened. “Oh, they were, weren't they?"

"Shut. Up."

"A dozen red roses just for Timmy-Poo."

Tim groaned and slumped against the counter, putting his head in his arms. "I just don't know how to make him stop!"

"Well, have you tried asking him?" Jason asked, a smirk tugging at his lips, but no longer laughing.

"I...sort of," Tim faltered.

Jason snorted. "How do you 'sort of' ask someone to stop courting you? Come on, I'm curious."

"You know what they say about curiosity," Tim said.

Jason waved him off. "Satisfaction has brought me back before. I'm sure it will do it again."

Tim grimaced. "Well…” he began slowly, trying to frame the situation in the least embarrassing way possible, “Bruce and Dick were there and then I just...didn't get the chance."

"Uh huh."

"I tried!"

"Hey. I believe you, Babybird. But you're gonna have to tell the brat. Otherwise the next thing you know he's going to start trying to take you out on dates and give you lavish gifts and try and pamper you and woo you and-" Jason paused as Tim’s shoulders hunched, face buried in his hands. “Seriously?” Jason exclaimed. He clutched his side with one hand and grabbed the counter with his other before he could fall out of his chair laughing.

"Go away," Tim mumbled into his hands.

Jason’s laughter eventually died down, and he leaned forward across the counter to roughly ruffle Tim’s hair. "Sure thing. But hey, if you need any more romantic advice, you know where I am.” He gave Tim’s shoulder a playful punch. “Go get 'em, lover boy."

With that, Jason got off his barstool, walked into the living room, slid a window open and climbed out, cackling all the while.

Tim glanced up in time to see him go. The jerk had even left his empty Ramen container on the counter. Ugh. Tim groaned and put his head back down. Why did Jason have to be right?

***

The next afternoon, Tim arrived at Wayne Manor, determined to put an end to this. It wasn’t hard to find Damian. He was by himself, working away at one of the computers in the Cave. Tim took a deep breath. Time to do this while everyone else was still upstairs.

“Damian,” Tim said as neutrally as he could. He could do this, he could totally do this.

The brat swiveled in his chair and stood up. “Timothy.”

“Could I have a word with you?” This would all be over soon.

“There is something I wish to say first.”

Oh no. Was Damian actually going to confess? “Actually,” Tim said quickly, “I really need to tell you something.”

“I believe my concern is much more pressing. Are your wounds healing appropriately?”

“What? Yes, I’m fine. Look, Damian - ”

“And are you eating well?”

“That’s none of your business. We really need to talk about - ”

“You may tell it to me later this evening. You will accompany me to dinner this evening.” Damian sat down and turned back to his work. “I will make the appropriate reservations.”

No. Tim grabbed the back of Damian’s chair, turning Damian back to face him. Damian stared up at him, one unimpressed eyebrow raised. “No, Damian, I will not be accompanying you tonight. This has gone on for long enough but it really has to stop-”

“What has to stop, Timothy,” Damian bit back, “is the egregious way in which you treat yourself.”

“What’s wrong with the way I treat myself?”

“Have you not read the reports I have sent you? I described the numerous problems with your selfcare quite succinctly.

“Of course I haven’t read them.”

“And that is why we must go out to dinner.”

“Damn it, Damian. Listen to me!”

“Whoa, whoa, what’s all the ruckus?”

Before Tim could get a word in, Damian yelled, "Timothy will not accept my invitation to dinner!"

Dick’s eyes widened and his mouth fell open. "Oh little D. I didn't -” Dick faltered. “Did you just call him Timothy?"

That was it. This had gone on too long. “No. I can’t do this. I am not going to dinner or anywhere with you Damian. I have tried to be nice about this, but I don’t like you like that. Okay? So just stop. I’m not interested.” Dick and Damian were both staring at him. Realizing how harsh his words were he awkwardly muttered a quick, insincere, “Sorry.”

The silence in the cave was deafening. Dick glanced back and forth between Damian and Tim with the distinctive look of someone who had been hit with a large fish.

"Dami...do you like Tim?" Dick asked finally.

Damian frowned. "Of course not, Grayson."

Dick and Tim turned to one another, perplexed.

"You...don't?" Tim looked skeptically at Damian.

"Why would you think I like you?" the boy retorted.

"But, but…,” Tim’s mind flashed over the past few weeks. All the signs, all the build-up. “The flowers... the gifts...asking me out on dates..."

“Wait, wait, what?” Dick said.

Damian shrugged. "Pennyworth suggested them."

Tim’s mind reeled. Alfred? Alfred was the cause of all this?

Dick took a deep breath and said, "Dami, what did you ask him? Specifically."

For the first time since the conversation began Damian actually looked embarrassed. He flushed slightly and looked at the floor as he said, “I merely wanted to show Timothy that I do not hate him anymore.” He hesitated. “And that I wanted to apologize for my past behavior.”

Tim felt the strangest sensation of vertigo as his memories of Damian’s actions shifted to fit into this new context.

“But what about the ninjas and the reports and the stalking and, and the concern?”

“In the course of my attempts to apologize, I discovered the poor state of your health. I decided that took precedence over my apology.”

That...made sense. Tim didn’t know what to say.

Dick was positively beaming at the two of them. “Damian, why don’t you go ahead and make those dinner reservations for four? I’m sure Bruce would love to join us.”

Damian blinked and gave Dick an odd look before nodding.

“Great!” Dick clapped them both on the shoulder. “I’ll go tell him and we can head out.”

With that, he bounded back upstairs, leaving Tim and Damian alone in the cave once again.

They stood silently, avoiding each other’s gaze until finally Damian spoke. “I must make the arrangements - ”

"Thank you,” Tim began a half second after Damian, “for all the, you know...things.”

Damian trailed off and then nodded stiffly. “Of course and...I apologize once again. For...before.”

Tim wondered what exactly it was Damian was apologizing for before remembering that incident a few weeks back...right before the roses incident. He snorted to himself and offered Damian a lopsided smile. "Accepted. And...I don't hate you, too, by the way."

Damian harrumphed, crossing his arms. "If you had merely said that from the beginning it would have saved us all a great deal of trouble."

Tim rolled his eyes and started back towards the Manor. "You're such a brat."

"Tt." Damian fell into step beside him, his phone out as he fiddled with it, presumably making reservations.

Tim glanced over and said,“By the way, don’t ever damage priceless comics ever again. Do you have any idea what you did to that comic?”

Damian waved his hand, not looking up from his screen. “They are just worthless old rags. Not even worthy of being called literature.”

“Worthless!” Tim gaped. “Comics are an artform! One of the most innovative styles of storytelling possible!”

“Overpriced and poorly conceived,” Damian corrected as they crossed into the Manor, Tim’s annoyed exclamation of “Hey!” echoing back into the empty Cave behind them.