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we keep this love in a photograph

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It happens like a whirlwind. Like a vicious tornado destroying everything in it’s path. It happens slowly and then suddenly, sneaks up on them out of nowhere and catches them both by surprise.

It happens on rooftops, down dark alleys, in Tim’s bright, sun-filled kitchen with waffles and maple syrup, happens with blood on Jason’s mouth, with anger and violence, with kisses that tastes like promises neither can put into words.

It happens all at once and then not at all.

 

***

 

They go from enemies, to co-workers, to finally something like friends. They eat takeout on rooftops, get each other out of scrapes when they get in over their heads, talk about cars and music and agree that Alfred can be ten times scarier than Batman when you insult his cooking, which is why they make a pact never to tell him about the waffles.

Sometimes Tim can talk Jason into coming over on his nights off to watch football or play a video game and once Jason even asks Tim to come with him and Roy and Kori on one of their missions and that’s almost like the same thing, for Jason.

Tim doesn’t even realize he’s falling for him until Jason’s trying to die on him, big gaping shoulder wound that Tim’s wrapping up as good and as tight as he can until they can get him to Alfred.

“You can’t die,” he says, thumping Jason on the forehead to keep him from closing his eyes. “Not before I kiss you.”

Jason just grins up at him, says, “Shoulda made your move sooner then, darlin,” and passes out.

 

***

Jason doesn’t die. He doesn’t forget Tim’s last few words to him either, apparently.

“So,” he says, nudging Tim’s leg with his foot as Alfred is walking back up to the manor. His shoulder and half his arm is bandaged up and he’s a little high on painkillers, his eyes not focussing quite right, but he remembers. “You wanna kiss me, huh?”

“You were in shock,” Tim says in mock seriousness. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Youuu wanna kissss meee,” Jason sing songs.

“You are fucking high,” Tim laughs and Jason drags him forward with his good arm, slides his mouth against Tim’s crookedly and laughs against him.

“Gonna sleep now,” he says, swaying back and forth. “Do over on that kiss, okay?”

Tim laughs and hands him a blanket to cover up with. “You bet.”

 

***

 

The first time Jason kisses him for real, not pumped up full of painkillers and still bleeding, it’s actually raining. Blood is dripping down Tim’s face from where some thug shoved him into a brick wall and his hair is getting plastered to his forehead and Jason just grabs him and kisses him, shoves him up against a wall and licks the blood off his cheek. It's kind of romantic, Tim guesses, for Jason. Afterward, he takes Tim back to his place and gives him a dry change of clothes while his suit dries.

Tim drowns in Jason’s clothes and he expects Jason to laugh at him when he comes out of the bathroom, make some snide comment about his height or how scrawny he is, but he just stares, drags Tim to the couch and into his lap and they spend the next few hours just making out, touching and kissing, learning each others bodies.

Jason makes a high pitched sound when Tim licks the shell of his ear and Tim’s ticklish on his stomach, giggles when Jason’s fingers brush below his navel. Tim likes having his neck sucked on and Jason’s happy to oblige, especially when it makes Tim grind his hips against him and Jason can feel how hard he is, grabs Tim by the hips and angles him so that their cocks grind together through the thin cotton sweatpants.

“Oh god,” Tim pants against his neck, rolling his hips. “Yeah, don’t stop.”

Jason nips at his neck. “Wasn’t --” he moans at the friction. “Wasn’t planning on it.”

They both come in their pants like goddamn fourteen year olds and it’s the best thing ever.

 

***

After that Tim makes Jason take him out on an actual date.

“Because I am a classy lady,” Tim says.

“Do classy ladies always come in their pants on the first date?” Jason asks behind his menu and Tim blushes.

“Jesus, could you say that a little louder? I don’t think they heard you in the back.”

After dinner they go to a movie, some stupid explodey-action thing that was the only thing they could both decide on, and Jason mostly ignores it to put popcorn down Tim’s shirt the entire time.

“I’m trying to watch the movie,” Tim hisses.

“Please,” Jason says in his ear, stealthily slipping his hand between Tim’s thighs. “Like there’s a plot.”

Tim’s eyes roll back into his head when Jason’s hand goes higher. “Okay,” he grits out. “You win. Date over.”

They go straight back to Tim’s place because it’s closer and Jason fucks him over the back of the couch, leaves his teeth marks on him when he comes.

Tim convinces him to come to bed with him, falls asleep with his head nestled in the crook of Jason’s shoulder and his arm around his chest. He wakes up alone though, a sticky note stuck to his phone that says best date ever.

 

***

 

The first night Jason doesn't sneak out the window right after, the first morning Tim wakes up to find him still there, tangled up in Tim’s sheets, tangled up around him, Tim almost forgets how to breathe.

Jason’s still asleep, not snoring, just rhythmically breathing against Tim’s arm and it kind of tickles. He looks -- he’s always looked beautiful, even when he was terrifying, maybe even more so then -- but now he looks goddamn radiant. The early morning light is diffused by the thin curtains covering the large, east facing Windows in his room and Jason is washed in the soft, golden colors, even his face softened by sleep, making him look younger, his muscles more relaxed. He looks like he belongs in a watercolor painting and it gives Tim an idea.

He slides off the bed slowly, doing his best not to wake Jason, and pads to the extra room where he keeps his equipment. But when he comes back Jason’s already awake, rubbing the sleep from his eyes with his fists and squinting at Tim. Tim quickly hides the camera behind his back.

“I’ll, uh. Waffles?”

“Mmm,” Jason says, smiling sleepily. “Waffles.”

 

***

 

Tim takes pictures of everything. He instagrams his toast when the burn marks look like a Death Star. He sends Steph silly snapchats while she’s in class. He goes to the park right before dusk and takes pictures of rose petals falling into the fountain, of a small child trying to chase a duck, of an elderly man with a dark tattoo on his spotted, wrinkled neck.

He prefers black and white to color, believes it makes you see more of the subject, but when he thinks about taking pictures of Jason the thought never crosses his mind. There’s so much color, so much vibrance and life inside of him it would be blasphemy to try and hide it, a cardinal sin.

 

***

 

“I want to photograph you,” Tim says, propped up on one elbow. Jason’s leaned back on two pillows, sheet haphazardly draped across his hips. There are red and purple bruises on his throat and pinkish scratch marks on his chest and his lips still look gloriously red and swollen from sucking Tim’s cock forever. Tim still can’t feel his legs.

Jason raises an eyebrow.

“Please?” Tim asks because he’s really not above begging, not for this. It’s obvious he’s not going to achieve it through stealth mode, so this is the only way, for Jason to give him permission.

Jason scratches an itch behind his ear. “Why?”

Tim’s eyebrows pulls together. “Why? Look at you.” He gestures to Jason’s body. “You’re fucking gorgeous.”

He thinks he sees Jason actually blush, which is a marvel in itself, but it’s not about that, not really. Yes, he is fucking gorgeous, but that’s not why Tim wants, why he needs so badly to take his picture. It’s because he has a feeling that one day, maybe soon, maybe a year from now, that this will all be over. Nothing lasts forever and he’s accepted that, but. He never wants to forget it.

“You, uh. Should I put some clothes on first?”

Tim’s body hums with anticipation. Jason’s actually going for it. “No,” he says quickly, heart racing. He keeps having to bite the inside of his cheek to keep from grinning like a lunatic. “You’re perfect.”

“If you say so,” Jason says and yep, definitely blushing.

“Oh, definitely,” Tim says and leans over, pulling his camera out from under the bed. He flips it on and adjusts the aperture and iso to match the low light in the room, manually focuses it. He sees Jason fidget nervously through the viewfinder. “Oh please, I know you’re not shy,” he smirks, reaching out to pinch Jason’s thigh.

“Yeah well, I’ve never been someone’s subject, either,” Jason grumbles.

Tim sets the camera down on the bed for a moment. “You haven’t had your photo taken much, have you?”

“Uh, no?” Jason says. “Deadbeat Dad. Then homeless. Then dead. Then not dead and apparently it’s not cool to go around having your picture made when you’re supposed to be a corpse. So yeah.”

Tim grimaces. He hates the way Jason always talks about his death so casually, like it’s just a punchline to a neverending joke. But he figures that it’s just the way Jason copes with it, so he tries not to say anything, even if sometimes it makes him want to hold him down and scream at him for it.

“Well, just be still,” Tim says softly and picks his camera back up, looping the strap around his neck. “Act natural. You don’t have to look at me. Just look at that spot on the wall or something.”

“This is so weird,” Jason says, but he relaxes anyway, one hand loose on his belly, the other at his side, and stares off in front of him. He flinches a little when he hears the shutter snap.

“Jesus, you are beautiful,” Tim murmurs and there’s another click. “I could stare at you all day, I swear.”

“Christ, cut that shit out ,” Jason laughs, a little unsteady.

“Nope,” Tim grins. He feels safer behind his camera, like he can say things he’s always shied away from saying. “Everything about you is perfect.”

click

“Your eyes.”

click

“Your lips.”

click

“Mmm, those pretty bruises I left on you.” Tim zooms in.

click click click

Then he just looks through the viewfinder for a minute or two, zooming in on the scratch marks he left on Jason, his pretty, pink nipples that are so sensitive Tim can make him moan with just the flick of his tongue, his perfectly defined stomach. Then his gaze drifts lower and oh, he gets an eye full of Jason’s hand wrapped around his dick, sheet thrown off of him. Tim zooms out. God, he’s gorgeous, smirking directly at Tim and just slowly rolling his hips, pushing his cock through the tight circle of his fist.

Tim takes the camera away from his face, lets it rest against his chest.

“C’mere,” Jason says and grabs the bottle of lube from the side table, squeezes some in his hand..

“Again?” Tim grins, but he’s already crawling across the bed to straddle Jason.

“Uh huh,” Jason says, guiding his cock to Tim’s hole, still a bit stretched and open from earlier, when Jason had come home and pounded him into the mattress. “That stalker thing is actually kind of hot.”

“It’s not a -- oh fuck, yes,” Tim lets out a low, guttural moan as he sinks down onto Jason’s dick, head falling forward. “Come -- come on. Fuck me.”

Jason chuckles. “Man, I love you like this,” he says softly, tucking Tim’s hair behind his ear. “My cock buried inside you and you still want more.”

“Yes god, please,” Tim gasps out, rocking back onto him, groaning loud and dragging his nails down Jason’s chest when he bottoms out.

Jason slaps the side of his thigh. “You want it? Take it.”

So Tim does, grips tight to Jason’s shoulders and pushes up to his knees, sliding back down too hard, too fast, his head spinning with the intensity, the burn of Jason’s cock stretching him open, the way Jason shouts jesus fuck, Tim, when he slams all the way down. He repeats the same motions for a while, takes him as deep and hard and fast as he wants, rides Jason until his thighs begin to burn, his camera bouncing off his chest, bruising his sternum a little with each bounce. Jason watches for a while but then he can’t help but touch, runs his hands up Tim’s thighs, plays with his nipples, sticks two fingers in his mouth and watches Tim suck on them just as diligently as if it was his cock.

"Fuck, gimme this,” Jason says and grabs at the camera strap, almost choking Tim with it trying to get it off.

“What -- Jason --”

“You say I’m amazing,” Jason murmurs, flipping the camera on and looking through the viewfinder. “You should fucking see yourself right now.”

click

 

***

 

Jason still grumbles whenever Tim takes his camera out after that, but after a couple of times and a threat from Tim regarding the withholding of sex, he finally gives up.

Sometimes it’s at breakfast while he’s drinking his coffee, sometimes it’s right after he’s gotten out of the shower and his hair’s still wet -- Tim’s obsessed with the two curls at each of his temples. Sometimes they walk to get lunch and Tim brings it with him, stops to take pictures of weird things like old signs and broken windows, sneaks pictures of Jason when he’s reading the paper or staring out a window. He’s such a little creep.

When Tim brings his camera with them around town and people catch him taking pictures of everything he ends up being mistaken for a tourist or an out-of-towner and Tim just laughs, but Jason thinks it’s pretty dumb. What the hell kind of tourist would come to Gotham? But then one day a sweet old lady puts her hand on Tim’s arm and tells him she was a photographer for thirty-nine years, would he and his boyfriend like to be in one together, and Tim takes his camera off, his most prized possession probably, and just hands it to the woman.

Jason's still stuck on boyfriend.

Boyfriend.

Sure, they’ve been doing this thing they’re doing for a few months now -- he counts in his head -- six, actually, and last month he officially moved in, but it’s just so weird. He’s someone’s boyfriend. And before he can even try to begin to process that,Tim’s pulling him in and linking their fingers together and Jason looks at Tim and that’s when the shutter goes off.

Tim puts the picture in a frame next to the bed and Jason says it’s not a good picture because he’s not even looking at the camera, but Tim always disagrees, smiling, but he never tells him why.

 

***

 

Tim found out soon after Jason started sleeping over that sometimes Jason has nightmares. Bad ones. The third night he spent at Tim’s place he scared Tim to death, thrashing all over the place, shouting when he woke up in a cold sweat. Tim tried to ask him what was wrong but Jason had just shook his head and spent the next half hour sitting in the floor of the shower.

Sometimes he mumbles in his sleep while he’s thrashing around, mostly dream jargon that makes no sense, but sometimes Tim thinks he can hear his name in there among the jibberish. He always wants to ask Jason about it, see if there’s anything that he can do when he wakes up screaming and frantic, when he won’t so much as look at him. He wants to tell him there’s nothing to be ashamed off. They all have nightmares with the lives they lead and fuck, with the shit Jason’s been through, Tim can’t imagine the things that wander around his subconscious in the dark.

Sometimes Jason downs half a bottle of Scotch before bed and Tim figures that’s why.

One night Tim wakes up freezing, the sheets yanked off of him because Jason’s having another nightmare, tossing and turning, the sheets getting all twisted up around his legs. Tim rubs his face. He’s barely been asleep two hours.

“Jason,” he says, touching his shoulder. “Jay, wake up.”

But Jason won’t come out of it, no matter how loud he says his name. Tim knows you’re not supposed to forcefully wake someone up out of their nightmare, especially if these are more like night terrors, but he’s exhausted and he has to be at a meeting at seven in the morning, so he puts both of his hands on Jason’s shoulders and shakes him gently. “Jay, wake up,” he says firmly and it happens so fast he doesn’t even have time to react.

Jason slides his hand under his pillow and then Tim’s being pinned to the bed, all of Jason's weight on top of him, and Jason’s got a knife to his throat. It all happens in about three seconds. Jason’s staring down at him, feral, still not completely awake and Tim would be sort of impressed by how agile and strong he is when he’s still mostly asleep if he wasn’t scared to death.

“Jay,” Tim says quietly, the way you talk to junkies on a bad trip or jumpers, trying to back them off a ledge. “It’s okay. It’s me.”

The knife digs in deeper and Tim’s pulse jumps. Jason eyes fall shut and when he opens them again he looks horrified, slings the knife across the room and clambers off of Tim so fast he knocks the lamp off the nightstand.

Tim applies pressure to his throat with his hand. “Are you okay?”

“Am I...” Jason’s voice cracks; he looks like he’s going to be sick. He turns his back to Tim. “I have to go.”

“What? No. Jason, it was my fault, I shouldn’t have --”

Jason’s neck snaps back around and he glares at him. “No.

He pulls on a pair of pants, grabs a shirt out of a drawer, and heads into the living room to pull on his shoes.

Behind him, Tim says, “You’re coming back, aren’t you?”

Jason looks back at him once, his hand on the doorknob. “I have to go.”

 

***

 

Tim tries to go back to sleep. Tries to tell himself that Jason just needs a little space, needs some time. He’ll be back.

But he can’t. The bed’s too big, a huge, Jason shaped hole that’s cold to the touch. He turns on his side but there’s no hand curling around his hip, no lips against his bare shoulder. He rolls on his back, drums his fingers on his stomach. There’s dried blood on his neck, he should probably do something about that.

He goes to the kitchen where they keep the bandages, cleans the area first and puts on one. Then rips it off.

He walks into the living room to see if he can find something on tv to watch and sees his camera sitting on the coffee table. He stares at it for a moment, stares at the door where he watched Jason walk out, then picks it up and flings it at the door as hard as he can.

He steps over the pieces when he goes out later.

 

***

 

A week turns into two weeks. Two weeks turn into a month. Tim loses days at a time. He throws himself into his work until Steph stages an intervention, sneaks something into his drink to make him actually sleep (he can’t remember the last time he stopped going) and stays on his couch until he wakes up, two days later.

“He’s gone,” Tim says quietly, like he doesn’t want to hear the words out loud, and sinks onto the couch next to her. He had told himself nothing lasts forever, but words don't mean much when your heart's involved, apparently.

Steph links her fingers with his. “He’s Jason, Tim.”

Which just pisses him off. He tears his hand away from Steph and stands up, paces the floor in front of her, then walks over to the window. “He’s coming back,” he says, watching a little bird on the fire escape. One of it’s wings is broken and it can’t fly and Tim turns around, slides down the wall and starts crying.

It hurts. He hasn’t cried since...he hasn’t cried yet and it hurts, his entire body wrenching out his tears, gasping for air because he can’t fucking breathe why can’t he breathe --

“Tim,” Steph says carefully, kneeling down in front of him. “Hey, breathe with me, okay?”

She takes his face in her hands and makes him look at her. “Breathe, Tim. Like this.”

And he tries, but it hurts too much. He feels like his ribs are coming apart and everything’s going to come out -- everything’s already coming out and he hates it, hates it, he hates --

“Steph, I loved him,” he chokes out, wrapping his arms around himself to hold everything together. He never got to say that.

“I know,” she says, petting his hair. “I know you did.”

 

***

 

“Where is he?” He demands and Babs crosses her arms over her chest, staring him down. Tim knows he’s being rude but he doesn’t care right now. “I know you know.”

Her mouth thins out and Tim can already see it on her face. “I don’t actually,” she says, managing to both look annoyed at Jason for somehow evading her completely and apologetic for not being able to find him. “When Jason doesn’t want to be found, Jason doesn’t get found.”

Tim refuses to break down in front of Oracle. “Look harder,” he says and slams the door on his way out.

 

***

 

Two months go by.

Steph and Dick come by to box up everything that belonged to Jason so Tim doesn’t have to look at it all the time and they’re almost at the door with it when he starts panicking again, gasping for air like his lungs have holes in them, until he feels like he’s floating away from himself. Steph has to help him breath again and Dick just stands there looking helpless, staring down at him like you poor, broken thing and it’s the most humiliating thing Tim’s ever been through. He wishes he could just use his weapons, his fists, anything to fight his stupid broken heart but he can't and he hates it.

“Hey, it’s okay. We’ll just put it in the back, okay?” Steph says and covers him with a blanket. If I ever see that asshole again I’m going to fucking kill him, Tim hears her say to Dick while they tote Jason’s stuff into the back bedroom. But after she pecks Tim on the forehead and tells him she’ll see him soon, Dick hangs back, crouches down in front of him.

“Listen,” he says. “I’m not going to make excuses for him because I see you like this and it just, it makes me want to hurt things, Tim.”

Tim breathes out, feels his shoulders finally relax. Steph’s been great, really. He’d probably still be lying in filthy clothes and eating saltines every day if it wasn’t for Steph, but sometimes she’s too much and every time she says something bad about Jason he gets mad at her a little, which isn’t fair, he knows that, but sometimes he just can’t handle it.

“But,” Dick starts. “Jason was with you longer than he’s ever been with anyone, Tim. I know him. He gets scared, he runs.” He pushes Tim’s hair out of his face. “But you know what? He’s come back every time.”

 

***

 

Babs wakes him up in the middle of the afternoon with a text saying she’s coming over. He thinks about telling her he’s busy, but it’s not like Babs to make house calls, not to him anyway, so Tim pulls on a hoodie and meets her in the living room.

“This was taken three weeks ago,” she says, pushing a shitty printout of a photo into Tim’s hands. He doesn’t look at it. “In India.”

Tim shoves the picture in the front pocket of his hoodie.

“Look,” Babs says. “I wasn’t lying when I told you I couldn’t find him. Jason knows how to disappear. The only reason I found him is because he wanted to be found.”

Tim’s fingers curl around the edge of the paper in his pocket.

“I just thought you should know,” Babs says and lets herself out.

Tim takes a long pull from a bottle of Nyquil and goes back to sleep.

 

***

 

A week later the city erupts in chaos. Bombs start going off all over the city, Selina disappears, Jim Gordon gets kidnapped and nobody knows anything, not even Bruce. It’s not good, but it’s good for Tim, gets him back in the swing of things. He spends a lot of time in the cave and Alfred dotes on him for being away so long and feeds him and feeds him until he feels like he’s going to bust at the seams. He gets behind the computer and let’s his fingers do the work and he remembers how good he is at what he does, how much he loves it, how there are other things in his life that matter.

When they finally find Jim and figure out who’s behind it all, Tim feels himself smile for the first time in months. They get the bad guys and Bruce actually tells him he did a good job and invites him to dinner on Sunday and everyone looks really surprised when Tim actually shows up.

Cass is visiting and they talk forever and then her and Steph challenge him and Damian to a game of two on two and of course, the girls kick their butts and Tim and Cass end up having to peel Steph and Damian off of each other.

Afterward he and Damian head to the kitchen for a drink and Damian hops up on the counter. “Glad to see you finally stopped sulking.” He says with a judgemental raise of his eyebrow.

“Yeah,” Tim says, dipping his hand into his glass and flicking water at Damian. “I’m kind of done with that.

 

***

When he thinks about it, it’s probably awful that it took a city-wide crisis to do it, but he finally crawls out of the dark shadow that Jason left behind. Steph stops looking at him like he’ll shatter if she breathes too hard and they start to catch up on lost time, all those months when Tim wanted nothing to do with anyone. When she talks and talks like she’s had no one to tell all this stuff to for the longest time Tim feels so damn guilty for neglecting her. She’s his best friend, she didn’t deserve that.

“I missed you,” she says at their favorite coffee shop, picking at the crumbly top of her muffin.

“I missed you too,” Tim says. God, he really is a jerk. “I’m really sorry I haven’t been around.”

Steph waves her hand at him. “Speak nothing of it,” she says. “I’m just glad you’re...cool now. We’ve got to catch up on like fifty episodes of tv. And there’s this new bar that opened up down the street from my place that I’ve been wanting to go to. We’ve got to get you back out there, baby!”

Tim looks out the window, away from her.

“Cmon Tim,” Steph says softly, sensing his unease. She puts her hand over his on the table. “It’s time. You know that, right?”

Tim looks up at her and forces a smile on his face. “Yeah, I know.” He squeezes her hand. “I’m gonna go pay, okay?”

There’s two people in line already and Tim quickly realizes it’s because the barista checking them out is especially chatty. He’s also really hot. Tim kind of understands why the girl in line fumbles with her change.

When he gets up to the register the guy’s just as chatty with him, big, flirty smile on his face, letting his fingers brush Tim’s when Tim hands him his debit card. He’s young and he smells good, has a tattoo just barely peeking out of the top of his shirt, a single, dark curl of ink. He licks his lips while he waits for the computer to process Tim’s card and smirks when he catches Tim staring.

Tim signs the receipt and the barista hands him his copy, leaning on the counter in front of him when he sees no one else is in line.

“So, Tim,” he whispers conspiratorially. “I get off at five. We should go out or something.”

Tim flusters, picks his receipt up and sticks it in the front pocket of his hoodie and his fingers touch something else. He pulls it out and stares.

It’s the printout Babs had brought him weeks ago, the one he never dared to look at. It's a picture of Jason standing outside of a building holding a cigarette in his fingers. He’d quit smoking two months before he left. Tim’s throat goes tight when he realizes Jason’s wearing the shirt he put on the night he left. It’s one of Tim’s.

“Oh,” the barista says suddenly. “Sorry about that, man. It’s been said I’m a bit presumptuous. Good going though. He’s beautiful.”

“Yeah,” Tim says. “He is.”

 

***

 

Fall turns into winter on a dime. Tim goes into a meeting and when he comes out the temperature’s dropped twenty degrees and it’s snowing, cold on his nose and melting in his hair. He pulls his jacket tight around him and calls a cab. When he gets home he changes into sweats and a hoodie and curls up in bed. It’s only five o’clock but he can’t find it in him to give a fuck.

Snow always makes him sleepy and nostalgic. It makes him think of baking cookies with his dad and Alfred’s hot chocolate, him and Steph on rooftops catching snowflakes on their tongues, snowball fights with Conner.

He picks his phone up before he can rationalize what he’s doing, knows he’s only going to get voicemail again, but it doesn’t matter. He just needs to reach out, somehow.

It’s Jason, leave a message.

--beep--

“It’s me,” Tim says, closing his eyes and settling against his pillow. “It started snowing today. First snow of the season.” He feels his throat start to tighten up. “You always loved the snow.”

He sniffles. “I hope it’s snowing wherever you are.”

Then he hangs up.

 

***

 

When he wakes up the next morning everything is covered with sheets of white. He goes down to the coffee shop and remembers why winter is his favorite: peppermint mochas. He gets one for him and one for Steph and takes it to her at her place. He helps her study for two exams and then they play Mario Kart for the most of the afternoon and Steph tries to kick his ass for blue-shelling her and mostly succeeds. They make deformed looking sugar cookies, or well, they try. Steph ends up eating most of the dough before the cookies make it into the oven.

Tim goes home feeling pretty good, sticking his tongue out to catch snowflakes with his tongue and laughing at himself. He thinks I can do this, waving at a kid with a Superman shirt on in the street, but when he walks in the door the world just seems to slip out from underneath him.

Jason, sitting on the couch with his hands in his lap, looks up at him. “Hi.”

Tim bites down so hard on his lip blood rushes onto his tongue. His chest feels too tight. He can’t breathe and god, he cannot do this now.

“Why are you here?” He spits out and he’s kind of shocked at how angry he sounds.

Jason looks hurt for a second, but it quickly fades. “I can go.”

Tim feels like his head’s going to explode, or his heart, maybe both. He holds his hand out. “No. Just.” His mind spins. There are so many things he wants to say, to ask. So many things he’s thought about. And he never even considered it before but now he just wants to scream at him, tell him he hates him and to get out, just fucking leave, that’s what he’s good at, right? But he doesn’t. “Just. Why are you here, Jason?”

“For you,” Jason says and Tim wants to hit him for it. Jason must see it on his face because he straightens up a little, like he’s bracing for it.

When it doesn’t come Jason sighs and says, “Look, you don’t have to listen to me. I know I don’t deserve that, but if you’ll let me talk, I have some things to say.”

“Okay,” Tim says, sitting down in the chair across from him because he doesn’t trust himself to be close to Jason right now. Apparently all the anger he’d felt at Jason for leaving him has been buried this whole time, only to surface the minute he saw his face and his fists are still balled up like he just wants to wail on something. “Talk.”

Jason takes a deep breath. “You know how I used to have nightmares?” He begins.

Tim nods, relaxing his fingers.

“I know you thought they were like, about me dying or having to dig my way out of a coffin or whatever, but they weren’t.” He swallows. “They were about you.”

Tim starts to pick at a hole in his sweats.

“About every time I hurt you. All I’d see was you cut open and bleeding. And then they got worse,” Jason says, hanging his head like he can’t bear to look at him. “I started dreaming about hurting you. Not the shit I did in the past, but now. I’d see myself stabbing you in our bed, Tim. I’d dream about you dying in my arms because I’d slit your throat.”

Tim’s just, he’s in shock. He never knew -- Jason never told him. He never asked.

“And then I almost --”

“No, you didn’t --”

Jason holds his hand up to stop him. “I could’ve really hurt you and I just. I couldn’t let that happen again. I couldn’t live with myself. I hated leaving you, okay? I fucking hated every step I took away from you, but I thought I had to do it. For you.”

“You didn’t,” Tim snaps. “You didn’t have to leave. You should’ve talked to me. We could have --”

“I know,” Jason says. “Okay? I know I fucked up. Did you know you were the longest relationship I ever had? I didn’t even know what I was doing half the time. Sleeping with you was scary. Moving in with you was terrifying. Every day was a constant fucking struggle against my instinct to run. And then when I...when I fucking woke up and realized I had a knife to your throat I knew it was different this time. I wasn’t scared for me, I was scared for you.

Tim listens and he tries to process Jason’s words. What he’s saying makes sense and he’s gone so pale since he started talking that Tim just wants to tell him it’s okay. But he just doesn’t know if it is.

“I went to this place in India,” Jason continues. “Heard about it from someone years ago. They do some kind of mystical spiritual thing, help you get your demons out. I figured it was hokey, but I had to do something,” Jason’s eyes plead with him, but Tim’s still trying to process everything.

All this time he’d assumed Jason had just left to get away from him, that he was wandering the globe and ignoring his calls because he didn’t want to think about him and now. He’s not sure what to think.

“It’s run by monks and other spiritual types and I think there were a few people there with magic too. They had me meditate for like a month straight, only pausing to eat and sleep. It was pretty intense.”

Tim doesn’t know what to say. The hole in his sweats is getting bigger.

“And then they just had me, like, talk to someone. I’d meditate half the day and the witchy lady would put her hands on my head like she was trying to draw out the nasty bits, then I’d go into a nice room with this lady and she’d make me tell her about my nightmares. And about you.”

Tim swallows, but his throat has gone completely dry. His voice is scratchy when he finally speaks. “What’d you tell her?”

Jason slowly looks up at him. “That you were the only thing that ever made me feel like living.”

Tim doesn’t even realize he’s crying until Jason’s getting up and walking over to him, kneeling on the floor in front of him and wiping the tears off his cheek.

“That’s...that’s what you were doing this whole time?” Tim chokes out, Jason’s fingers brushing his skin too much for him to take.

“Yeah,” Jason says, suddenly taking his hand away from Tim’s face, like he’s realized he’s not allowed to do that anymore.

Tim catches his hand. “You did that for me?”

Jason stares down at their hands, blinks up at Tim. “Yes.” He says, but then he worries with his lip. “Well, I mean. I didn’t expect you to still be here, waiting for me. I didn’t -- I don’t deserve that. But it was something I had to do either way.”

“I waited for you,” Tim whispers. “Maybe I shouldn’t have, but I did.”

Jason lets out a shuddery breath. “Does that mean.” He slides his fingers between Tim’s. “Can I come home?”

“Idiot,” Tim says, dropping down off the couch to kneel in front of Jason, wrap his hands around his neck. “You are home.”

 

***

That night before bed Jason undresses and Tim gasps when he sees his back, now covered in tattoos from shoulder to hip. Runes of protection and symbols from all different beliefs to ward off evil and negative energy, words of strength and healing.

Tim spends the whole night tracing them with his fingers, asking Jason what each one of them means. Some of them are burned into his skin and Tim just can’t believe it, doesn't think he’ll ever be able to understand everything Jason went through just for him, doesn’t feel like he’ll ever deserve it.

He puts his mouth on all of them, kisses the rune on Jason’s shoulder, the script on his lower back, the eye of horus on the back of his neck. Then he reaches across Jason for his phone on the nightstand and leans back onto his knees, makes a mental note to invest in a new camera.

“What are you doing?” Jason asks, trying to crane his head around far enough to see him.

Tim holds the phone in front of him, smiles. “Taking a picture.”