Gotham needed a Batman, and Batman needed a Robin. That was why Tim was in the red and green in the first place, why he’d found the weird, eclectic colony of bats that had accepted him in as a Robin and not the cuckoo he felt like sometimes. That was why he had an Alfred who fussed at him to do his homework in the kitchen so that Alfred could make sure he actually did it, because he cared about Tim’s future and not Tim’s impact on the family’s reputation. That was why he had a Bruce who sat with him and tried to explain his math, again and again and again until Tim at least kind of got what was supposed to be happening. That was why he had a Dick who showed up to drag him out of the house to get his mind off things any time he thought Tim sounded down over text messages, regardless of whether Tim was actually down or just a bit lonely and milking Dick’s kindness.
Yes, Batman needing a Robin was the best thing that had ever happened to him.
Robin needing a Batman might be the last thing that ever happened to him.
Bruce had been very clear that Tim was to stay in until Bruce’s dislocated shoulder had been cleared by Alfred and Dr. Thompkins. Tim had protested that he was perfectly capable of taking on anything that the general criminal population could throw at him, but Bruce hadn’t taken him seriously. So, to prove that he could fly alone, he did.
It had gone well for the first couple hours since it had been quiet, until he’d veered into Crime Alley and stumbled on a small gang mugging a man for his wallet. Tim had managed to save the man, who’d wisely run away, but even Tim wasn’t dumb enough to think that he could take on that many people all by himself, so he’d run too. That had gone well too, until Tim had tried to grapple onto a nearby roof and a bullet had, with one-in-a-million odds, hit his line. It wasn’t enough to break the line, but it was enough force to shake the grapple free.
He’d only been a few feet off the ground, but he’d botched the landing and felt something in his left ankle shift in a way that it was not meant to shift.
He’d wasted only enough time for the grapple to retract back to firing position before firing again and escaping onto the roof.
Luckily, there was no fire escape and gang didn’t try to get to the roof through the building itself, because Tim wasn’t going anywhere fast.
He wasn’t dumb enough to stick around and wait for them to come back with a ladder, though.
Grappling was out of the question, though, so the back alleys it was.
The problem was—well, one of the problems, because Tim had several at that moment—that Tim did not know Crime Alley particularly well. Batman didn’t go into the Alley much, for obvious reasons, and then ever since Red Hood had taken over, he hadn’t touched Crime Alley. More painful memories, Tim supposed, but that meant that Tim was going in nearly blind.
Tim gritted his teeth and shuffled forward one painful step.
Look on the bright side, a voice in his head suggested about twenty minutes in, sounding suspiciously like Dick.
Well, on the bright side, at least the fact that it was going to take hours to cover the…two, three miles?—to his bike was delaying the absolute fury that was going to fall on his head when Bruce realized that Tim had not only gone out against Bruce’s orders, but he’d also crippled himself for at least a week.
Tim huffed a pained laugh at that, and of course the moment he took his mind even a little bit off his surroundings was the moment he set his bad foot on a beer bottle.
The bottle rolled just slow enough for Tim to think oh, shit! before it shot out from underneath him, sending Tim careening forward and slamming directly into a dumpster with a resounding BANG!
Searing agony tore through him from his wrenched ankle and he hit the concrete hard on his knees with a gasp of pain.
For a split second of white-hot terror, he was convinced that his kneecaps were broken and he was going to be one more dead Robin in Crime Alley.
He wanted to curl up and wait for the waves of pain to calm to the dull ache it had been earlier, but he—a deep, ragged breath in—he had to get up. He had to keep moving. If anyone found him, grounded and alone, he was going to be murdered.
He’d just managed to brace his sore hands underneath him when he heard the distinctive dull thud of boots hitting the concrete out of nowhere and the soft whir of a grapple retracting, and his heart stopped.
Bruce was homebound, and Tim was 95% certain that Alfred had drugged his tea. Cass wouldn’t have made a sound. The footfalls were too heavy to be Steph, and nothing like Dick’s soft-soled boots. Besides, Dick was in Blüdhaven and Tim was in Crime Alley.
“Well, well, well, look who decided to drop in,” Red Hood teased, a cruel pleasure not completely scrubbed by the modulator in his helmet.
The terror rooting him to the ground the moment before sent him scrambling to his feet, digging his fingers into the crumbling brick of the dilapidated building beside him. He turned sharply, placing equal pressure on both feet despite the searing pain because Jason had been trained just as much—more—than Tim and he’d be able to pick up on such an obvious weakness.
“Hood,” Tim said as levelly as he could.
Maybe he’d stand a chance if he could bluff Jason into believing that Dick or Bruce was nearby and closing in.
Tim believed stupid things like that sometimes.
Jason laughed, the sound jarring and harsh through the modulator and doing no favors for Tim’s nerves.
“You know, Crime Alley isn’t the nicest part of town, Robin,” Jason drawled. “Not safe for a baby bird all by itself.”
Yeah, I figured that out, Tim nearly bit out, but that would show unease, and Tim couldn’t let Jason think that he was unsettling Tim.
Jason made a show of looking one way, then the next, then shrugged dramatically. “Where’s Batman, ‘Robin’? Did he leave you all alone?” Jason spat a laugh. “You’d have thought he’d learn not to do that after what happened the last time. Tell me, what do you think you’ll call yourself after the universe decides to fuck you over and bring you back to life? Shrimp? That will strike terror into the hearts of…well, absolutely no one, but that wouldn’t be much of a change, now would it?”
Tim slowed his breathing to keep his panic in check, watching Jason’s body language more than he was listening to his words. He didn’t look like he was about to attack, but he also wasn’t showing any openings and Tim knew that he’d be caught if he ran without neutralizing Jason. He couldn’t touch his panic button which would hopefully alert someone that he was in trouble, consequences of sneaking out be damned, because Jason would know about the panic button and might decide to get on with whatever it was he was going to do. Luckily, Jason was a talker, and more than that: a taunter, so he didn’t need Tim to do much talking back. Tim could work with that.
“See, the real question is do I kill you myself, or do I leave you here for someone else to find? Which would you prefer, kiddo?”
There was an expectant pause after that remark, and Tim realized that he was expected to say something witty in return.
“I prefer the option where I beat the shit out of you, personally,” Tim quipped, trying to put as much confidence into the remark as he could.
Jason seemed to buy it, because he didn’t call Tim out on being injured. “You’re going to beat me up? Oh, learned a lot from the last time we fought, have you?”
Tim barely held back a flinch, remembering Jason’s attack on the Tower and his weeks of recovery afterward. Jason still wasn’t showing an opening, and he was too far away for Tim’s to catch him with a sudden extension of his collapsible bo staff.
“So, what are you doing out here by yourself, birdie?” Jason continued when Tim said nothing. “Here to spy on me? That was stupid.”
Tim huffed. “You know, Hood, the world does not revolve around you, even though your ego certainly is big enough for it.”
Hood regarded him for a moment, but his body language wasn’t giving away his mood.
“Did Batman send you here?” A dangerous edge creeped into Jason’s tone, subtle but markedly different from the amusement of a moment before. “All alone?”
And that was a growl. Shit, he was going into a Pit Rage, and Tim was going to die.
“No, he’s—” Tim realized his mistake and slammed his jaw shut. Curse his kneejerk defense of Bruce!
Jason realized the mistake a moment later, and a tension Tim hadn’t noticed eased in the way Jason held himself.
“I see,” Jason said, the dark glee back in full force. “He doesn’t know you’re out here.”
“H-he knows!” But the lie was too late.
Jason cocked his head and snorted. “Really, Robin? Aren’t you just itching for a rematch? The chance to settle who the best Robin is?”
Jason stepped forward and Tim lasered in on the hand twitching on the handle of a gun, completely forgetting about his injured foot until he stepped directly backwards onto it and it crumpled beneath him.
Tim fell backwards, smacking the back of his head directly into the brick wall behind him.
The world spun and went dark, but he didn’t completely pass out. He felt the rough brick dig into his neck and back as he slid down it and hit the ground, heard Jason’s approach stop. Tim groped for his dropped bo staff, but he still couldn’t see anything, and he was trying to listen to Jason—
“You’re injured,” Jason grumbled distastefully. “Well, there goes our rematch.”
Tim inhaled sharply, not understanding. His fingertips found his bo staff and tried to work it into his hands—it would do nothing against bullets, but maybe if he threw it or something—
Jason huffed in annoyance. “You know, I was looking forward to beating the shit out of you to prove again how useless you are, but looks like you already did that to yourself. Killing you like this won’t prove anything.”
Tim didn’t say anything, just blinked rapidly until his vision started to clear. It was still dark and his vision swam with shapes and dull colors, but it was enough to somewhat aim at Jason.
And started walking away.
“Well, Replacement,” Jason said with a cocky farewell wave, “looks like we’ll have to settle that next time. Assuming you aren’t murdered in the next ten minutes, and that you don’t break your neck tripping over your own shoe laces. I know you’re completely hopeless, but do try not to die until I kill you, okay?”
Tim was always one to look the gift horse in the mouth, but…goddammit, Jason was cruel enough that he really might want to wait for Tim to get better just so he could have a better time killing him later. Dick had said that Jason’s favorite movie had been the Princess Bride. Apparently, he’d learned a thing or two from Prince Humperdinck.
Jason marched out of the alley, frustration in his gait, and then he was gone. Tim waited a minute to be sure, making sure to check the edges of the rooftops in case Jason was going to try a surprise attack, but nothing came.
Tim rolled onto his stomach with a stifled groan and pushed himself up. It took another several moments for his head to sort of stop spinning enough for him to shift the bruised knee of his good foot underneath him and push up. He dug his fingers into any purchase he could find on the wall, and with a bit of scrabbling and hopping, he finally managed to stand on his good foot.
Heavy boots stomped down the alley, and rough hands grabbed him before he could even turn.
Tim was tossed over a shoulder, landing so hard on his stomach that he nearly threw up.
I’m being kidnapped, struck him like a slap in the face. Not by the Joker, or Scarecrow, or Black Mask, not even by one of the gangs, but by some random opportunist who was going to do something unspeakably awful to him or sell him to someone who would.
His brain finally caught up to his situation and Tim tried to grab his bo staff, but to his horror, his hand met empty air because he hadn’t picked it up.
His captor grabbed Tim’s hands and forced them down against his sides, pinning them their with an arm like an iron band around his waist.
“Calm the fuck down, Replacement.”
Tim’s pounding heart froze for the second time that night.
Jason had been lying.
He’d come back.
Tim thrashed and kicked desperately, but Jason’s other arm came down over his legs just under his knees, pinning them just as thoroughly as his arms. He was trapped.
“Let me go!” Tim shrieked, using what little wiggle room he had to drive his shoulder into the exposed skin on Jason’s neck.
“Hell!” Jason snapped, squeezing Tim so tightly he thought his ribs would snap. “You’ve got the boniest fucking shoulders of anyone I’ve ever met, and I was starving on the streets!”
Jason kept stomping down the street, each step driving his shoulder—muscular and hard, blunt force to Tim’s sharp—into Tim’s gut. It felt purposeful, and it probably was. Jason’s body was tense with barely contained rage. He must have been so angry at himself for nearly giving up the chance to do whatever it was he wanted to do with Tim.
Tim’s chest constricted, and it had nothing and everything to do with the way Jason’s arm muscled him into place. If Jason didn’t want to fight Tim, then he was just going to kill him if he was lucky. They didn’t know what kind of training Jason had had while he’d been with the League, but they’d seen the bodies, seen the marks. Jason knew how to make a death slow and torturous if he hated someone, and he didn’t hate anyone more than he hated Tim and Bruce. He also knew better than anyone that the best way to get to Batman was through his Robin.
Tim tried to struggle again, but he couldn’t do more than tense with how tightly Jason had him. If he could just touch the panic button on his chest, then Bruce could find him, but it was impossible to move, and Bruce wouldn’t be able to fight Jason with one arm extremely injured anyway, so then he’d have to call in the others, but Dick couldn’t fight him either, and Steph wouldn’t stand a chance, and Cass wasn’t on the comms, or maybe Bruce would try to do it himself anyway and Jason would kill him too, and Dick would lose his dad and Alfred would lose his son, and Gotham would lose its Batman, and then everyone would hate Tim, and even if they didn’t, they should because it was all going to be his fault unless he just took it and let Jason hurt him however he wanted as long as he wanted and hoped that Bruce wouldn’t find out who’d done it until his arm was fixed, and it was all because he’d tried to prove himself and only had proved that everything Jason had said about him was true.
He sucked in breaths fast and short, but he couldn’t breathe, his head was spinning, and he was going to throw up all over Jason’s back, but then Jason was really going to let him have it.
“Please,” Tim gasped desperately, blinking rapidly to hold back the tears burning in his eyes. “Please, Jason, no.”
Jason snarled. “I’m only doing this so I don’t have to kill your fucking rapist because you’re a fucking idiot and I’m a literal martyr, so shut up.”
That didn’t make any sense at all. Jason hated him; he’d been going to leave Tim to the rapists and murderers in the alley five minutes before. He’d taunted Tim about the fact that horrible people would find him if he didn’t move quickly.
Jason’s moods could change so quickly though, and he’d apparently decided that he wanted to have his own fun with Tim after all. Tim thrashed again, but it was completely useless, like he was just a tantrumming toddler.
Tim slumped against Jason’s back, not caring about the way the blood rushed to his head. Maybe he’d black out and would be unconscious for the possible weeks ahead of him. He fought to keep them back, but the tears finally broke free, dripping from the corners of his eyes and pooling soggily at the edge of his mask.
He didn’t want to die.
They didn’t go far before Jason stormed up a fire escape and spent a minute deactivating traps before throwing open a window and slipping into the pitch black room.
Jason stomped across the room and suddenly bent down and dropped Tim.
Tim had only a split second to panic before he hit the sofa. It was hard and lumpy, but still a better landing than the floor would have been. What was Jason playing at?
Jason moved…away, he moved away from Tim and wasn’t circling around the couch. It was Tim’s chance to—
The light flicked on, blinding Tim for a vital moment. Jason was back at his side before he could see again, and the moment to escape or kill himself quickly was lost.
Tim blinked rapidly to get rid of the spots in his eyes, but he didn’t manage it in time to see Jason’s hand come up to rip Tim’s mask off his face.
Tim cried out in pain without meaning to, but that didn’t stop Jason—because he wanted Tim hurt, wanted him dead, all Tim ever wanted to do was continue Jason’s legacy, but he couldn’t do anything right—from grabbing Tim by the back of the neck and hauling him into a sitting position. Tim winced hard and clenched his eyes in a childish rebellion against reality.
Robin, his Robin, was going to torture and kill him.
“Open your eyes, Replacement,” Jason growled.
What was he going to do? Blind Tim? Gouge his eyes out with one of his knives? Or did Jason just want to see the pain and tears more clearly as he tortured Tim? He might be nicer if Tim did what he wanted, though.
In a pathetic display of cowardice better suited for a mouse than a Robin, Tim opened his eyes.
Jason stabbed his eyes with an unnecessarily bright light. Tim yelped and snapped them shut again.
Jason didn’t do anything about it. “You’ve got a concussion, probably from knocking yourself up. Congratulations, Replacement, it’s an idiot.”
Jason was…he really was Humperdinck, wasn’t he? Making sure that Tim was right as rain before murdering him.
“Now lie down and let me look at your foot,” Jason ordered.
There was a small sound of small items being shuffled as Jason rummaged around for something, but Tim didn’t move. He wasn’t dumb enough to let Jason near an obvious wound. Forget calming Jason; the only thing he could want was pain. He’d probably twist Tim’s foot clear off; he was strong enough to manage it.
Jason must have found what he was looking for, because the rummaging stopped, and Tim could feel the eyes boring into him.
“I said,” Jason said icily, “lie down.”
Tim’s breath caught in his throat. “N—no.”
Jason growled, and there was suddenly a hand on his shoulder, shoving him roughly back onto the couch. Tim’s eyes snapped open, catching only a blur of green—the helmet was gone, those eyes were bright with rage—and leather before the back of his head hit the hard cushion of the couch, making him cry out in pain.
“I’m going to wrap you ankle because you were dumb enough to sprain it. Now shut up and let me do it, twerp,” Jason snapped and pulled his hand back.
Tim’s eyes burned with tears of pain and humiliation. Even when he wasn’t actively being held down, it was only because Jason didn’t at that moment want him down. He was living at the whim of a murderer.
Jason yanked his boot off without warning.
Tim screamed and tried to yank his foot back, but Jason grabbed his leg right above his ankle and held it firmly.
“Calm down, kid!”
Jason pulled Tim’s foot back toward him, but Tim raised his other foot and slammed it into the side of Jason’s neck.
To his surprise, it actually worked. Jason fell backwards, letting go of Tim’s foot, but the relief was momentary. Tim only had time to process that Jason was down before Jason was up on top of him. There was a brief struggle before Jason slammed his palm down on Tim’s throat and dug his fingers in while Tim coughed and gasped.
“Replacement,” Jason said, his voice strained and deliberate. His eyes blazed an unnatural, writhing green. “I am trying very hard not to kill you. I am trying to take care of you.”
“Y-you were—” Tim pried Jason’s fingers back as far as he could, but he could still barely breathe. “—goi-ing to kill me.”
There was a pause, then Jason’s grip on his throat loosened. His hand didn’t move, but it was keeping Tim from sitting up, instead of choking him and forcing him down. Tim blinked at Jason in surprise.
The green had dulled to something sharp, but more believably human.
“If I’d left you there,” Jason said quietly, “someone would have found you. They—they found me. I don’t hate you that much.”
I’m doing this so I don’t have to kill your fucking rapist.
Jason hated rapists, Tim knew, both as Red Hood and as Robin. He wasn’t supposed to, but he’d read Jason’s file after he’d made Bruce cry because he’d called his assigned reading, Pride and Prejudice, boring, and Tim wanted to make sure he learned every trigger before he ever broke Batman again.
Bruce had suspected…stuff, about Jason’s time on the streets, even though Jason had never confirmed any of his suspicions. Tim had never really considered that the horrific possibilities that could have happened to Robin would also have happened to Red Hood.
Jason stood up and pulled back his hand, waiting a moment to see if Tim would move, but Tim was rigid.
Jason sighed heavily, and that—that wasn’t tears in his voice, because that was impossible and it was already miracle enough that maybe Jason wasn’t going to slaughter him this time because Tim had somehow managed to trigger some ancient trauma, but it really sounded like tears.
Jason sat down on a rickety coffee table that really probably shouldn’t have been trusted to hold the weight of an extremely heavy vigilante, but Tim wasn’t about to tell Jason that.
“I’m going to check your ankle for breaks, then I’m going to wrap it,” Jason warned him that time, his tone mildly patronizing, but Tim didn’t say anything. Didn’t move.
The fingers came back, softer that time, and probed at Tim’s foot for a moment.
“Wriggle your toes.”
Tim did so.
Jason grunted. “Not broken. Just a sprain.”
Tim hadn’t thought any differently, but sure, that was nice to have it confirmed.
Jason picked up the elastic bandage he’d pulled out of—it must have been the open first aid kit on the table beside him that he’d been sifting through—and slowly started wrapping Tim’s ankle with practiced ease and gentle fingers.
When it was done, Jason stood up without a word and walked away. He came back a minute later with an icepack that he placed on Tim’s stomach when the shock was still too much for Tim to so much as twitch.
The icepack sat there for a moment, seeping cold into Tim’s stomach before he drew in a huge breath and finally managed to lift himself enough to settle the icepack on his ankle.
“Th—thank you,” Tim said tentatively, hoping and praying that he wasn’t about to set Jason off again.
Jason shifted awkwardly from one foot to the other. “Yeah, well, don’t count on it. I still want that fight.”
Tim took another deep breath and nodded a bit hysterically. “’course. Of course. As soon as I’m better, I’ll give you a call. Or maybe I’ll just drop in. Element of surprise and stuff.”
Jason frowned and poked a gloved finger at Tim’s forehead. “Are you always this squeaky when you’re scared, or is it just the concussion?”
Tim shrugged his shoulders to his ears. “I don’t know?”
Jason sighed. “Well, fine. I’m leaving anyway.”
A floorboard creaked under the shift of weight as Jason moved to walk to the door.
Tim shot up. “Wait!”
Jason stopped and looked back at Tim. “What?”
Tim frantically mimed a hand next to his ear for several seconds while Jason stared at him like he thought Tim had gone crazy before Tim remembered words.
“Phone. Your phone!”
Jason frowned deeper. “I thought you were just kidding about the call. I’m not giving you my number, Replacement.”
Tim shook his head. “No! I didn’t—They don’t know where I am! They’re going to panic when they can’t find me!”
Jason snorted and started walking again. “Bruce can handle a bit of stress. I’m sure he’ll track you down soon enough.”
Jason flinched. Hard. And turned, slowly, guiltily. “Alfred’s to British to be worried, Timmers. They keep calm and carry on.”
Tim shook his head again, tears pricking in his eyes. “Jason, no. You don’t understand! It’s not about me, it’s about you!”
Jason frowned, clearly not tracking.
Tim forced himself to sit up all the way even though it made him want to puke so he could look Jason in the eye.
“If they can’t find someone, they automatically think the person’s dead, both of them, because you ran away, Jason, and then you were dead and you didn’t come back. You don’t know what it was like for them, both of them. I know you hate Bruce, but please don’t do that to Alfred,” Tim pleaded.
He was ten minutes late to meet Alfred after school. His teacher had wanted to talk to him about some project he’d missed because he’d been fighting Killer Croc until three in the morning. He hadn’t thought to tell Alfred that he’d be late, since he hadn’t really thought she’d drone on so long, but he figured that Alfred wouldn’t mind. Alfred never seemed to mind anything.
When he got to the car, though, he found Alfred pacing outside, phone gripped in white knuckles and pressed against his ear hard enough that it had to hurt.
“I don’t know, sir; the principal said that he was in class this morning, but they don’t know where he is now. No, I haven’t called the police yet, but—” Alfred turned and his wide eyes fell on Tim.
Tim blinked at him and the way relief crumpled Alfred’s normally composed features.
“Here he is, sir. He looks none the worse for wear,” Alfred whispered hoarsely into the phone. “Yes, sir. Yes. You can see for yourself very soon.”
Alfred hung up and looked back up at Tim with a weak attempt at a welcoming smile. His eyes glistened and his hands trembled.
“Master Tim. I was worried about you.”
Tim was never late again.
Jason’s face was stone, and for a moment, Tim thought he was going to walk away again, but then he pulled a phone from his pocket, unlocked it, and slapped it into Tim’s outstretched hand before dropping down onto the table again.
Tim’s shoulders slumped in relief and his had to wait a moment his hands to stop shaking at the ghost of a memory. He wordlessly typed in Alfred’s number and paused.
This is Tim, he wrote. Fabulous introduction. Then what? After a moment, he typed, Spending the night with a friend. That was…not really true, but good enough.
Optimistically, he added, Back in the morning.
Jason grabbed the phone before Tim could hit send and proofed Tim’s text. He raised an eyebrow at the second sentence, but hit send anyway.
Surprisingly, Jason didn’t immediately get up and sprint for the door like Tim had expected. Instead, he thumbed a streak on the glass for a moment before sighing and tucking the phone away.
There’s complete and utter silence as Jason looked everywhere but at Tim and Tim waited for Jason to get his thoughts in order.
“Alfred,” Jason said at last, followed by a long pause. “He—” Jason swallowed hard, then continued in a thickening voice, “I didn’t know he worried like that.”
“He’s your gr—” If Tim finished that sentence, it would imply that Bruce was Jason’s dad, and Jason might flip again, but it was the truth. “He’s your grandfather, and he lost you. Of course that affected him.”
Jason rested his elbows on his knees and hid his face behind his hands. “He doesn’t deserve that.”
“You didn’t deserve to die,” Tim said. It wasn’t fair that Alfred and Bruce freaked out when they couldn’t find someone. It wasn’t fair that Dick obsessively checked in with everyone just to make sure that they were alive. It wasn’t fair that Tim had been beaten up because Jason had been in the midst of a magical rage. But it all stemmed from the fact that it wasn’t fair that an innocent fifteen-year-old had been murdered.
Jason snorted in disbelief at that but didn’t look up. “Did Bruce not tell you anything about me? Everything that happened was my fault.”
Tim scowled at that, which hurt his head a bit, but it was worth it. “He doesn’t badmouth you, Jason. He loved you. And even if you did cause your death, you didn’t deserve it.”
Jason flinched. “Shut up.”
“Tim,” Jason bit out, lowering his hands. The green glow in his eyes was brightening. “Stop. Talking.”
Okay, so apparently talking about one’s murder was triggering. Nice to know.
“Okay,” Tim agreed.
Jason glared at him. “That’s still talking.”
Tim stiffened at the hard tone and watched Jason’s face carefully.
After several moments, the green started to recede and Jason ran a hand down his face.
“Do you want the couch, or the bed?” Jason said at last.
“Huh?” That was talking, but Tim was pretty sure being directly asked a question meant the ban was over.
“Do you want the bed, or do you want to sleep here on the couch? The bed’s not much softer, but you’re less likely to roll off the side,” Jason explained, the entire speech coming out as one long sigh.
He didn’t really do much of that, but now that Jason mentioned it, he was tired.
He bit his fist to stifle a yawn. “I don’t want to kick you out of your bed.”
Jason rolled his thankfully-dimming eyes. “I’m not sticking around, kid. Couch or bed?”
Tim bit his lip and moved to stand up. “Bed.”
Jason tipped him backwards with a light touch to the forehead. “Don’t bother trying to walk; you’ll just hurt yourself.”
Tim was about to ask how Jason intended for Tim to get to the bed in the first place, but then Jason stood, scooped Tim up in his arms, and cradled him against his chest.
“I guess you really are a baby bird,” Jason teased, but there wasn’t that usual edge of malice to it.
Tim hesitated, then cautiously relaxed and let his head loll against Jason’s shoulder. Jason’s shoulder made a significantly better pillow than a….whatever it was called when something unnecessarily uncomfortable was digging into your stomach with every step.
Jason carried him around the couch, and Tim let himself relax farther. He really hoped it wasn’t a trap, all to lure him into a false sense of security, but…he also didn’t really think that it was.
The sway of Jason’s easy gait felt like being rocked in a cradle. If he closed his eyes, the slow rise and fall of Jason’s chest and the heartbeat thudding in Tim’s ear could have been Bruce’s. Bruce had only carried him a few times, since Tim wasn’t a baby, but Tim never felt more loved and secure than he did wrapped up in Bruce’s arms. If he didn’t close his eyes…then it wasn’t Bruce carrying him. It wasn’t the Red Hood holding him.
It was Jason Todd.
It was Robin.
It was the “big brother” Dick had told him he had, before his “big brother” had broken into his room at the Titans Tower and beaten him to a bloody pulp. It was the big brother he’d wished he could have had.
Jason’s arms were sturdy like Bruce’s, but less desperate. Bruce only hugged him when one of them was falling apart. It wasn’t warm yet brisk like his few Alfred hugs had been, and it wasn’t all-encompassing exuberance like Dick’s. Jason was calm. Steady.
For the moment.
Jason stopped in front of a door and awkwardly balanced Tim’s legs across his elbow to free his hand so that he could open the door. Tim yawned again and wrapped his arms around Jason’s neck to keep from falling.
Jason jolted so abruptly that Tim had to tighten his grip to keep from being dropped. Jason recovered the next second and carried Tim through the door and into a dark bedroom.
Jason didn’t bother turning on the light, just crossed the room to a small lump of shadows in the corner and kicked back the blankets before bending over and gently lowering Tim onto his back.
The mattress was lumpy, lumpier than the couch, but softer than the couch had been too, and it was wider as well. There was a pillow, flat but functional, as well, and blankets that Jason pulled over Tim and tucked in around him.
“There. Are you good?” Jason asked, his abrupt tone matching the perfunctory way he flipped Tim’s hair off his face, but not the softness with which he kept petting while awaiting a response.
Tim didn’t want to say yes, because he didn’t know that Jason was really aware that he was petting Tim, and if Tim said or did anything he might notice and stop, but Jason’s fingers scraping across his scalp felt really, really good.
Tim hmmed in a noncommittal attempt to stave off a real answer, and Jason hmmed back, but he didn’t stop petting, so that was fine.
They sat like that another minute or so, and Jason kept running his fingers through Tim’s hair until it stopped catching on tiny tangles, so he must have known that he was touching Tim, which somehow made it feel even better. Tim could fall asleep happily like that. In fact, that sounded like a really, really good idea.
“How is Alfred?” Jason said quietly, ruining his plans.
Tim blinked a sleepy glare at him, but yawned and turned onto his side. There was a stutter in the hair pets, but then they started up again at the new angle, filling more of his scalp with the tingly goodness Jason’s calloused fingertips left in their wake.
“Mm,” Tim hummed in sleepy pleasure. “Alfred. Alfred’s good. Worries. Cooks.” Tim yawned massively. “Steals my coffee.”
Jason snorted. “He still does that?”
Tim nodded. “You should see him.”
If Jason went to see Alfred—later, because Jason needed to keep giving Tim a scalp massage—then he wouldn’t have to ask Tim more questions, and Tim could fall asleep without ever having to be conscious of Jason stopping and leaving him alone in an unfamiliar bed in a strange room far from home.
Jason inhaled sharply, which hopefully didn’t mean murder. “He wouldn’t want to see me.”
Tim wrinkled his nose. “Don’t stupid. Alf…”
There was more, there was an entire spiel on why Jason should go visit Alfred, but then there was darkness and the loving arms of unconsciousness trying to pull him down into their torrid embrace.
Jason huffed a laugh, but it sounded a bit wet. “Get some sleep, Replacement. I think you need it.”
Tim would have nodded if moving was more than an abstract notion at that moment. He heard Jason laugh again, and was conscious of the hand pulling away from his head and mourning the lost warmth, but then there was more warmth pressed against him and shoving him back until his back hit the wall. Then there were hands, pulling him back the way had been pushed from, which seemed kind of counterproductive, and his head was pulled up on a pillow that breathed, and he only had time to briefly question why the pillow was breathing before sleep claimed him at last.