With silent footfalls, Tim landed on the crane that overlooked an uncompleted skyscraper. The building was half-finished, scaffolding clawing at the sky and the top floor open to the elements. It was on this top floor that Black Mask’s men were meeting.
Just like Tim’s intel had stated, there were 15 thugs carrying the usual weaponry --- pistols, baseball bats, knives --- and 7 were lugging around huge machine guns. And there, in the back corner, behind a desk, was Black Mask himself. He was lounging beside some large crates. A simple scan confirmed them to be the weapons that Sionis was planning on dealing soon.
A smirk flitted across Tim’s face.
Then he dropped a smoke bomb and grappled down to the floor.
The fight had been going well.
So well, that Tim shouldn’t have been surprised when Hood burst through the door.
Flipping away from the thug that he had just kneed in the gut, Tim whirled his bo staff in an arch, giving himself room to breathe.
Jason was here, far, far away from Crime Alley. Which meant that he had also been tracking Sionis’ deal and wanted the (hopefully) figurative kill for himself. That, or Sionis had done something to piss the Red Hood off, and this was personal.
Judging from the way that Jason lunged at Black Mask, Tim had to guess that it was the latter.
This wasn’t great for Tim or his mission.
Although they had been getting better, Tim had a meh relationship with Jason on the older boy’s best days. An infuriated Jason? Who might not be thinking correctly and didn’t know that Tim was here?
I’m not going to get out of here without injuries.
This theory was proven correct when Tim had to drop to the floor to avoid a man that Jason had just thrown across the room and another thug slugged Tim across the face.
Tim reeled back as someone else darted forward with a thin dagger.
Lashing out with his staff, Tim managed to whack the guy over the head, sending him crumpling to the floor. But not before his dagger had dug into Tim’s arm.
“Shit-” Oh shit.
Ripping the blade out was apparently a very bad idea. Because the wound was stinging and not in the oh-I’ve-just-been-stabbed kinda sting that Tim was unfortunately familiar with. No, the wound was burning.
In a practiced move, Tim dislocated another thug’s shoulder as she advanced on him, and shot his grapple towards the crane.
This mission was a bust. Tim had to get out of here before Jason went full Pit-mad on him or Black Mask’s men took advantage of his probably poisoned state.
His grapple hummed as he zipped into the sky and-
There was the sound of rope snapping and a young boy’s scream broke the night sky.
With a gasp, Tim flailed, slamming into a pillar that didn’t yet have a wall attached to it.
His knees hit the floor as he spun, just in time to watch two brightly colored bodies hurtle towards the floor.
“No!” He leaped forward, the red-gold-green costumes seared into his mind.
Tim knew what he would find. A man and a woman, surrounded by red, their blue eyes staring blankly at the tent top, their son screaming for them-
Something smashed into Tim’s side and he went rolling as pain erupted in his chest. He was stopped by a foot, before that foot slammed down on his torso. Tim’s eyes flew open, tears welling up as his ribs snapped.
He was staring up at a ceiling, not the night sky. And looming above him was a familiar red helmet.
Jason cackled, the noise was low and dangerous, “Oh birdy. I’ve been waiting to do this for a long time.”
There was a baseball bat in Jason’s hands and it was swinging down towards Tim’s leg. Tim flinched, rolling away from the bat as it slammed into the ground, inches away from Tim’s knee.
Scrambling to his feet, Tim extended his bo staff and whirled to face Jason.
But Jason was gone. In his place was Bruce, Dick beside him with a hand on his father’s shoulder. Damian was also there, a sneer on his proud face.
Bruce growled and Tim’s mouth slammed shut around his tongue.
No no no no no no no.
But Damian was pouncing, a feral grin on his face. Tim dodged and he was falling.
Tim was falling.
His line had been cut by his supposed little brother and he was falling.
Damian had shoved him off of the Cave platform and bats were screeching around him as he tumbled.
He was 7 years old, he had just stopped having nightmares of the Graysons’ deaths. He was 7 and alone in Gotham and he had slipped off of a fire escape when he had been trying to take a photo of a cat while he waited for Batman and Robin to pass by. He had fallen and landed in a pile of trash, but his heart was thundering and he hadn’t gone back out for a whole week.
Tim dreamed of his parents when he had been alone. He dreamed of their planes, the planes that took them away from him, falling from the sky, fire pooling from engines. He had never told his parents about those dreams.
The Graysons were flipping through the air again, light gleaming off of the sequins on their costumes. They were flipping, then there was a snap, and then they were tumbling. There was a horrifically loud crack.
Tim’s eyes flew open.
He was standing in an office building. His back was to a window and he was facing a tall man with white-streaked hair and poisonous eyes.
“Ra’s.” Tim’s voice shook. Ra’s grin grew.
“I-I beat you, Ra’s. Gotham is Batman’s. You’ve lost.”
“Perhaps,” Ra’s’ eyes glittered dangerously, “But I was never after Gotham. I don’t want to break Batman. He’s already proven himself to be unfit to be my heir. I need a new one.”
Tim was already shaking, but the Demon’s Head’s words sent another chill down his spine. Despite his shaking hands and racing heart, Tim readied his staff, “I won’t let you take Damian.”
“I don’t want Damian.”
Whatever Tim was going to say died in his throat as Ra’s loomed over him.
The immortal’s eyes were burning, possessive and cold and terrifying.
Then the immortal’s foot shot out.
Glass shattered around him. It dug into his skin, tearing at him like little claws.
This is familiar, Tim thought.
A scream ripped its way out of Tim’s throat, burning as it filled the night sky.
Tim tumbled, his chest was burning, his whole body ached, and he was falling.
He was falling and Tim knew that happened to people when they fell.
He had seen too many people fall.
Connor, crashing into the ground, leaving a crater. Bart, collapsing with bullet holes littering his body. Owens and Z, blood leaking out of their bodies as they hit the sand.
Tim was terrified of falling. He didn’t want to fall again.
Someone had caught him last time.
No one was around to catch him now.
“--old him down! Jay! Help--”
“--Ra’s? Bruce, what--”
“--Fear Toxin, laced--”
“--ok, he’ll be ok--”
“I’m here, Tim. Don’t worry, partner. I’ve got you.”
Fuck. Everything hurts.
That was Tim’s first conscious thought as his brain sluggishly pulled itself out of unconsciousness.
As he took stock of his greatest pains (his ribs were on fire, and there was a cut or something on his arm that really stung), Tim let his other senses wake back up.
There was a consistent beeping to his right and the hum of machinery. He guessed hospital or medbay, based on the thin but warm sheets he was tucked under and the faint pressure on the inside of his elbow that suggested an IV. The air was cool and in the distance was a fluttering of wings.
Tim’s eyes shot open.
He was in the Batcave’s medbay, tucked into a bed, pillows cushioning his head and lifting it slightly so that he could see better.
And he could see. Tim was seeing a lot of things that didn’t make sense.
Like Jason, dressed in sweats and a Wonder Woman t-shirt, curled into a chair in the corner, his chin resting on his hand, a thin line of drool tracing its way down his arm.
Dick was also sitting in a chair, though he was significantly closer, his head and his arms resting on the bed near Tim’s feet.
There was something curled against Tim’s side, something small and black-haired and very, very dangerous.
Breathing shallowly as to not disturb Damian or hurt his ribs more, Tim turned to the final person in the room.
Bruce had been leaning against the back of his chair so that his head could rest against the wall. But somehow, probably Batman senses, Bruce had noticed that Tim was awake.
With a quiet grunt, Bruce shifted and leaned forward. Familiar, warm blue eyes locked onto Tim’s.
There was a beat of silence as Bruce scanned Tim’s injuries and Tim tried not to scream. He didn’t want to be back here, he didn’t want to face Bruce’s disappointment or judgment or whatever the man might say after Tim completely ruined his mission. Tim needed to get out of here, his skin was crawling, and--
Bruce's voice was quiet and low, a rumble that seemed to shake the air. It was the voice that Bruce used when someone was sick or injured. The voice that Bruce used back when Tim was Robin, when Bruce would tuck Tim close to his chest after a nightmare, hesitant but wanting to provide comfort.
Tim hadn’t heard that voice in so long.
Calloused hands were cupping Tim’s face, thumbs brushing along Tim’s cheeks to wipe tears away as a sob wracked Tim’s body.
He was trying to be quiet, Damian was still next to him, but the sob sent a jolt through his body and a pained whine left his lips.
Bruce’s face crumpled at the noise, as Damian sat up, leaning away from Tim, his green eyes wide. At the foot of Tim’s bed, Dick and Jason flinched, suddenly awake as their eyes flitted around the room, looking for threats. The panic on their faces lessened and was exchanged for worry when they saw Tim.
“Timmy…” Dick’s voice broke, his eyes already watering.
Tim couldn’t do this. Bruce was still wiping his face, gentle and caring, and Damian and Jason had worried expressions, and Dick was looking at Tim like he cared.
He pushed against Bruce’s chest, trying to shove the man away, while wriggling in the blankets trying to untangle them.
“Baby bird, what-”
“Stop, Drake. You shouldn’t-”
“Timmy, you’re safe-”
“It’s ok, Tim. You need to calm dow- TIM!”
Tim had moved too much and his hip dipped over the side of the bed.
There was a swooping in his stomach as he tumbled backward off the bed. Tim screamed.
Small hands latched onto his shirt as a muscular arm wrapped around his shoulder. Something hit the floor as a hand grabbed Tim’s ankle and a different pair of arms encircled Tim’s chest.
Static was echoing in Tim’s ears as the arms and hands slowly pushed and pulled him. Tim’s fingers were clutching Bruce’s shirt, twisting the fabric beneath his grip. His other hand was secured onto Jason’s arm, as the older boy carefully lifted Tim back onto the bed.
“Deep breathes, good job, Tim. Deep breathes,” Bruce soothed.
Following the exaggerated chest movements under his hand, Tim slowly recognized Damian, latched to his shirt like a baby koala, his face pale. Dick kept his hand on Tim’s ankle, his fingers twitching nervously. Jason slowly moved back once Tim was settled, stopping to pick up his chair and move it closer as Tim’s breaths evened out.
“Good job. It’s ok, sweetheart.”
Bruce, now half sitting on the bed, gently dragged Tim closer until he could wrap his arms around him fully. Tim shuddered and went boneless as Bruce rubbed a warm hand up and down his back.
“It’s my fault.”
Tim met Jason’s eyes. They were a dark teal. They weren’t glowing.
“I didn’t know that you were tracking Black Mask’s deal. I went in there, looking for a fight, and had to change my tactic once I saw you were there. I distracted you, I wasn’t watching your back-”
“It’s not your fault, Jaylad.”
Tim could feel Bruce’s voice rumble in his chest. Jason’s face went pale, before his cheeks colored slightly.
“Sionis made a deal with Crane. None of us knew. His men had new weapons, Tim. Their knives were laced with Fear Toxin.”
Tim’s stomach clenched and then he felt it drop.
Fear Toxin. The rope snapping, seeing the Graysons die again, Red Hood attacking, all of Tim’s falls, Ra’s... all Fear Toxin.
Shame and embarrassment burned his face.
“Tim, I-I have to know.” Fighting the urge to cringe, Tim met Bruce’s eyes. They were sad.
“Tim, when you were dosed, you said something about falling. About no one catching you. What did you mean?”
“Ah-I,” Tim’s voice failed him and tears burned his eyes. He was Red Robin. Robins had to fly. He couldn’t have this weakness.
But Bruce’s eyes were so concerned and warm. Dick was rubbing circles on his ankle. Jason was leaning forward in his chair, body relaxed but muscles ready to move, just in case. Damian was keeping a firm grip on Tim’s shirt, but it wasn’t threatening, just protective.
“I--I don’t like falling. I haven't--it scares me. Ever since the circus.”
Dick made a soft, wounded noise.
“An--and when I was fighting Ra’s, h--he kicked me out of the window. Dick caught me, but…”
Bruce’s arms tightened around Tim.
“And when I was younger, I would have nightmares of my parents’ plane crashing. I fell off of a fire escape when I was 7,” Jason sucked in a sharp breath, “I couldn’t go back out for a week, but the house was too quiet.”
Tears were falling again. Small hands reached up and gently wiped them away.
Damian’s normally warm, tan face was startlingly pale.
“When...When I cut your wire?”
Damian’s voice was no louder than a whisper.
Bruce had frozen underneath Tim.
Tim nodded shakily.
“It was terrifying. But Ra’s was the worst. He was threatening you and Bruce and Cass and everyone and I thought he was going to kill me, slit my throat or something, when I told him he lost but he kicked me out of the window--”
The breath fumbled through Tim and for a moment he couldn’t breathe properly.
Then a small body buried itself against his chest, providing some pressure. Not enough to be painful, but just enough to remind his lungs how to work.
“I am so sorry, Drake.” Damian whispered. Throat clenching, Tim pressed his nose into Damian’s hair.
Tim let himself lean back against Bruce as his dad shifted so that he could hug Damian as well.
Jason reached a hand forward, and when Tim didn’t flinch, he began carding his fingers through Tim’s hair. Tim relaxed even more.
Dick had tears in his eyes as he stood to tuck the blankets around Tim and Damian. Tim sighed in relief as Dick pressed a kiss against his forehead.
“Get some rest, Timmy.”
Bruce chuckled, shaking the cuddle pile slightly.
“Sleep, son. We’ve got you.”