So you thought you had to keep this up
All the work that you do so we think that you're good
And you can't believe it's not enough
All the walls you built up are just glass on the outside
~"Healing Begins" by Tenth Avenue North
There were good nights. There were bad nights. There were somewhere in between nights. There were great nights. There were horrible nights. And then there were nights when you really began to wonder if it was really even worth the fight at all.
Tonight was one of those nights.
Everyone copes with things differently. Tim? Well, he typically ended up curled up in the tiny space between his bed and the wall, cynically considering his options. One of which included a handgun tucked away in a shoebox under the floorboards.
A handgun that now found itself hanging heavy in his hand.
There were definitely other, less violent ways to end it all. Downing a couple pills, braining himself on the bedside table, slitting his wrists and bleeding out on the bathroom floor... But Tim didn't need any more time to think. Nothing was faster or more efficient than a bullet to the head. It was also less painful, though he tried not to think about the selfishness of that.
Not to mention the irony of using a gun, the start of Batman's career and, in essence, the beginning of Red Robin's.
Tim had thought it through. He had never been one to rush into something, especially such a life-changing—he held back a snort—decision as the one he was about to make.
The best part? No one even knew what Tim really felt.
Because Tim was an expert liar. Actually, better than expert. It came as naturally to him as breathing. He supposed that should probably disturb him, but it didn't. It happened to be a very useful skill in the face of nosy coworkers, friends, and relatives. Lies were nearly always easier to face than the truth.
Hiding his true feelings was one such lie. Facades and masks defined him, his true emotions corked tightly within a bottle inside, never ever to see the light of day; only the waning moonlight filtering through the curtains of his apartment, or, at the moment, his Wayne Manor bedroom. This practice of falsehood had extended to himself, almost so he was convinced he was okay; that he could handle the horrible stress and pain that was life.
He remembered the time when he'd hated the lying involved with the mask: to his father, to his friends, wanting nothing more than to give them a straight answer for once. But now...
Well. There comes a time when even the best liars start to crack.
And if Tim was being honest (haha), he lied to himself as often, if not more frequently than he did to his friends and...family.
Could he even call them his family? Sure, it was all down on paper, but just like blood, ink wasn't what made a family family.
His fingers ghosted over the safety mechanism, hesitating before flicking it off.
At least Jason knew what Tim really was.
Tim had practically forced his way into this secret life in his desperation to be Robin after Jason's death. He had never been Robin; not really. He had been (still was) unwanted and unchosen. The outsider in Bruce's hand-picked family. Why should he even bother sticking around if no one had ever really wanted him in the first place?
A harsh laugh escaped his throat. After all the pain, all the danger, all the narrow escapes brought on by patrolling the streets of Gotham, the mighty Red Robin was going to go down via a handgun by his own volition. The irony.
Rock steady, he raised the gun barrel to his temple, the cold tip pressing against his scalp. He couldn't fight this feeling anymore. It was better for everyone this way. Closing his eyes, he wrapped his finger around the trigger.
"Drake!" called a familiar voice, shattering the previous silence as Tim's room door flew open (hadn't Tim locked it?) and slammed into the opposite wall. Before Tim could overcome his shock and slide the gun under the bed, footsteps echoed across the room.
"Grayson is..." The pompous voice trailed off, a tiny shadow stretching along the wall pausing at the foot of the bed as its owner halted his footsteps.
There was a beat of tense silence, during which Tim could feel the youngest Wayne's gaze boring into him, taking in the scene before him. He lowered the gun, an admittedly useless gesture: Damian had already seen him.
Then, "What are you doing?" Damian asked carefully, cynically—uncaringly.
"It's...it's not what it looks like," Tim managed, cheeks flushing at being caught by the brat, of all people. Well...the brat was better than Bruce or Dick. At least Damian wouldn't try to stop him. "Go away."
"It looks like you're about to do something either profoundly smart, or ridiculously stupid," Damian said, completely ignoring Tim's last statement.
"And why would you care?" Tim countered, finally glaring up at the smaller boy.
Crystal blue eyes stared down at him, not a single emotion crossing the 10-year-old's face. He didn't respond.
The minutes ticked by, Tim's initial discomfort being overcome by anger at Damian's lack of response. "Look," he snapped, "my business is my business. You can stay or go away, I don't care. But staring at me won't get you anywhere."
No reply. Well, he'd given him a chance.
Damian watched him in continued silence, eyes narrowed as Tim double-checked the safety was off, raising the barrel to his head.
Briefly, Tim wondered if this was really appropriate to be doing in front of a 10-year-old. He immediately dismissed the thought. This was a baby assassin who'd been killing since birth and who'd been not-so-secretly wishing Tim's demise since the day they'd met. To him, this would be a show.
Why not go out entertaining the brat? If he couldn't satisfy his peers, why not the son?
His finger tensed on the trigger.
Tim flinched at the sound. It wasn't quite an order. Damian almost sounded...young. Like his age, for once.
"If you're insistent upon doing this," Damian said, tone deceptively flat, "you'd better have a good reason, Drake."
Tim blinked. "It's not that simple."
Damian folded his arms over his chest. "I've got time."
Surprised, Tim hesitated. The truth pressed up against the lies, squeezing under his skin and begging to be set free. But after all these years, could he really just let them go? "No one would notice if I was gone anyway," he murmured, bidding for time.
Raising an eyebrow, Damian said, "Care to elaborate?"
Before Tim could make up his mind whether to actually answer the brat or not, his mouth decided for him: "From the beginning, Bruce never chose me as his Robin. I had to force him to take me on, to give me a chance. Heck, even Dick didn't want me to be Robin. I had to earn the right to the role."
Tim ran a hand through his hair, taking a shaky breath. "In a way, I was proud. Dick and Jason became Robin because Batman picked them, trained them, taught them everything he knew because he wanted to. I proved myself to him, showed him I could do everything...well, nearly everything that Dick and Jason could do and live to tell the tale. But that came at a price: Bruce refused to accept me completely as his partner.
"To him, I was—am—just an expendable asset, another soldier in his endless, self-driven crusade. I don't think I ever made the rank of equal in his eyes. Not like Dick and Jason did."
Impassive blue eyes stared down at him. Tim imagined he heard the brat mutter under his breath, "That's not true," but Tim was already launching into his next justification, unable to stop the flow of words now that he'd finally loosened the cork on his pent up emotions.
"I'm just a packhorse. The one in charge of all the projects nobody wants to do. Even as I sit here, the work keeps piling up. I just can't deal with all this anymore. Patrol, Wayne Enterprises, the Teen Titans, Bruce's cases..." He closed his eyes, pressing the palm of his free hand into his eye, fighting back the overwhelming pressure of panic squeezing his heart. "Too much. Nothing I do is enough, never satisfy anyone, never good enough. I can't..." He huffs, breath hitching slightly on the intake. "As you've kindly pointed out on multiple occasions, no one will even notice when my incompetency is gone."
Out of breath, he glared at the 10-year-old mulishly. "And why am I telling you all this? You never wanted me to exist in the first place."
Damian made no move to either confirm or deny that fact. Not that it mattered. Tim could practically see the gears turning in his little head as the demon attempted to drop the blame on someone else.
"Nobody will miss me much," Tim said matter-of-factly, hammering the final nail in his own coffin. "I mean, they might be sad for awhile, but they'll get over it."
There was a tense silence, two pairs of blue eyes glaring stoically into each other.
"Father will mourn you till the day he dies," Damian stated flatly, startling Tim at the sudden interruption from the formerly impassive boy. "Grayson will go crazy with guilt and grief, berating himself for not being a better big brother before he falls apart completely. Todd will blow a gasket and murder every criminal in Arkham. Cain would distance herself and spend years trying to figure out where she went wrong. Pennyworth's heart would break into a million pieces—again." The young hero fixed Tim with a glare worthy of the Bat. "And I would hate you for destroying our family with your selfishness."
Tim swallowed thickly, hesitating. "You already hate me," he offered weakly.
Damian tutted. "What does my opinion matter? You have won the affections of Grayson, my father, and a whole team of young superheroes. Not to mention Cain and Todd. What do you think the latter two would do if they caught you like this?"
Tim winced at the mental picture.
"Especially Superboy," Damian added. Then, not quite an afterthought: "Even I don't actually hate you."
At that, Tim shot him an incredulous look.
"That much," the baby assassin corrected.
Their eyes locked, blue on blue; one pair challenging, the other stubbornly stoic.
Tim huffed. "Fine." He allowed the barrel of the gun to drop, swinging it to face the wall. "Funk over. You can go now."
"Give me the gun, Drake."
Tim blinked. "Why?"
Damian snorted. "If you're truly not planning on blowing your idiotic brains out the moment I step out of this room, then give. Me. The gun."
Tim hesitated. It couldn't be that simple...could it?
No. It was too late. Damian already knew, so if Tim didn't go through with this he'd run the very high risk of the rest of the Bats finding out. Tim didn't think he could stand that; he could practically see the disappointment in Bruce's eyes as yet another of his soldiers failed his mission...
Almost absently, he buried the gun barrel back into his hair. His finger tensed on the trigger.
Missing nothing, Damian's eyes flared. "Very well, Drake," he announced imperiously. "If you're going, you're going to have to take me with you." Before Tim could blink, a knife was in the child's hand, the gleaming tip pressed against Damian's jugular.
"If you refuse to believe everyone—and I mean everyone—will miss you, think of what my father and Grayson would do if they saw me dead," Damian challenged. "And don't think for one second I won't go through with it if you dare pull that trigger, Drake."
Of all the ways this could have gone down from the moment Damian walked through the door, Tim would never have thought of this outcome in a million years.
Tim blinked slowly.
But no. Damian still stood before him, the razor sharp knife pressing dangerously into his own neck, an almost wild glint in his eyes.
"Because people will miss you, Drake," Damian continued in a strange, almost choked tone. "I only have Grayson and father. But you...you've got actual friends and family who love you not because of what you can do, but just because you're you. And that's good enough for them."
Blinking rapidly, Damian's eyes seemed to be shining a little brighter in the lowlight.
"They accept you for who you are, and when you make a mistake, they forgive you," he continued with a barely noticeable sniff. "They cry with you when you are sad, and laugh along when you are happy. If that's not love, then my interpretations of the concept are inaccurate. And I am never wrong."
"Damian," Tim sighed shakily. "You don't know what you're doing. Put the knife down."
"No, it's you who doesn't know what you're doing, Drake," Damian growled. "If you die, everyone is going to shatter with you. And if the only way to make you see sense is to threaten my own life, then so be it."
Tim stared. And then it clicked. "You're trying to guilt trip me," he realized.
Damian smirked savagely, a sick, twisted little smile that had no place on such a young face. "I refuse to let you break this family," he said levelly. "It's the only family I have left. So you remove your fingers from that gun, and I'll drop the knife. It's that simple."
Tim hesitated. The gun suddenly seemed very there in his hand; the solid weight of the warming barrel pressed against his head and tickling his scalp, the pad of his finger wrapped around the trigger. He became aware of every breath in his lungs hissing through his larynx to his nose, of his heart beating slightly faster in his chest. All of his body parts functioning as one in a beautiful creation for the sole purpose of keeping Tim alive.
Doubt crept in at the edges for the first time since he'd made his life-changing—ha, still funny the second time 'round—decision. Maybe...maybe this wasn't the answer he was looking for.
Staring up at Damian, Tim could swear the demon's lower lip was trembling slightly. "Go ahead," the boy challenged, steel blue eyes sending him a silent challenge over the glistening edge of the knife digging into his skin. "Prove how much of a coward you are, Drake. Do it."
Blood pumping through his veins, hairs on the back of his neck bristling at a phantom chill, sweat trickling down his forehead, sweater rubbing irritatingly along his collar bone...
The family would be devastated at another death, especially if it was at Tim's own hands rather than an actual Gotham villain. After all, yourself wasn't supposed to be included as a "flight risk."
Damian was right. Tim was a selfish coward. Selfish to believe that his death would affect no one, that his work would take care of itself if he were gone. A coward because he was desperate enough to try and take the easy way out rather than suck it up and face his mountain of problems.
Maybe...maybe he didn't have to go through life alone.
If Damian, of all people—the one who'd tried to kill him when they'd first met, the one who threatened to murder him on a weekly basis, the one who daily insulted Tim's very existence—was trying to talk him out of it...
He cared. To some degree, the one Tim was sure hated his guts cared whether Tim lived or died.
And at that moment, Tim had never felt more alive.
Almost numb, his grip loosened on the weapon, fingers shaking as his muscles mushed into jelly.
Before he'd dropped it hardly an inch, the gun was snatched from his hands, the former assassin snapping open the cartridge and emptying the bullets onto the floor with one quick motion. With a look of utter distaste, Damian tossed the weapon into the corner, along with the knife that had somehow slipped past both Bruce's and Alfred's scrutiny.
Silently, Damian dropped to the floor at Tim's side. What he did next took Tim a moment to process: the Bat's son scooted closer, leaning forward and pressing his cheek against Tim's chest, even as one arm snaked around Tim's middle to grasp firmly at the fabric of Tim's sweater.
Tim stared. Damian...was cuddling?
The bundle of assassin huddled at his side radiated heat, slowly warming against Tim's side. He hadn't realized how cold he was until the little furnace decided to crawl up next to him.
"Don't kill yourself," Damian whispered, so low Tim could barely hear him. "I would never forgive myself."
Not Dick. Not Bruce. Damian would never forgive himself.
"You've been spending too much time with Dick," Tim managed weakly.
"Tt. Just shut up and go to sleep, Drake."