Jason curses and stumbles out of bed to the sound of three sharp knocks on his apartment door. Knock, knock, knock. “Jesus Christ, I’m coming!” he yells, struggling into a twisted up pair of jeans.
“Hey,” Tim says tersely, sliding past him when Jason flings open the door.
Jason blinks hard. “Replacement?”
Tim’s mouth does something bitter. “Not for the next two weeks.”
“What do you mean?” Jason asks, trying to catch up. He’s going to need coffee for this. The faint digital numbers on the microwave read 1:27 AM.
Tim drops the laptop he’s been clutching to his chest onto the kitchen table. “I mean Bruce benched me,” he says. “For two fucking weeks.”
Jason pauses rummaging for the coffee beans to look Tim over more carefully.
Two weeks is a long time in the vigilante business. Last time Jason took more than a week to recover from a lucky shot one of Maroni’s thugs got through his Kevlar, Z street had gone through two changes in gang affiliation and Manolo Nocenti had gotten himself shot by someone other than Jason. He’d been saving that prick for a rainy day too.
For Tim to be benched for two weeks, Jason would expect serious, visible trauma. Jason used to get benched all the time, but that was for poor decision making. Tim’s never been that kind of Robin.
Nothing looks off about him that Jason can tell. Tim is wearing skinny jeans and an over-large hoodie and there’s no blood stains or obvious bulging from bandages. He hasn’t sat down, but that’s likely just because he’s awkward and uncomfortable in Jason’s kitchen. Jason didn’t even think Tim knew where he lived, although that was probably a failure of imagination on his part.
Jason pours Tim a glass of orange juice in place of the slowly percolating coffee because he doesn’t look like he needs to be any more keyed up. Tim gives the juice a disgusted look. “Thank you,” he says, politely.
Jason snorts. “What are you doing here?”
“I need to hand off some intel,” Tim says. He does some maneuvering with the laptop that makes Jason expect to hear a horrible crack, but the hinges fold neatly and Tim passes it over as a tablet. The display shows two crystal clear photos of Alberto Falcone at the docks and a geographical display map of civilian reported gunshots. There’s red all along the borders of the territory controlled by the Maroni’s.
“You complete geek,” Jason says with what feels almost like fondness.
Most of Jason’s intel is line of sight of assholes committing assault or via word of mouth from prostitutes and street kids. He deals with it on a nightly, first-come first-served basis and he doesn’t keep case notes and research anywhere but in long-term memory.
“There’s a shipment of guns coming in tonight by boat,” Tim says, swiping to an aerial view of the harbor. “Automatics. Mostly Benelli M3s, some Winchesters.”
“Classy. Only the best to start a full out mob war.” Jason considers the potential infiltration points. “Why didn’t Bruce or Dick take this while you’re off the roster?” he asks.
“Dick’s on night shift in Bludhaven and Bruce…disapproves of my involvement,” Tim says.
Jason nods. Well, so long as Bruce disapproves. “All right, I’m in.”
“Hey, Replacement,” Jason says, two hours later, pulling off his helmet and scrubbing a hand through his hair, “I resolved your mob problem.”
Tim looks over at him from his perch on the counter. He turns his tablet toward Jason and taps the screen. A video with fiery orange explosions starts playing. “You blew up two warehouses and a pier,” Tim says, unimpressed.
Jason takes the tablet and plays the video again. “What is this, the Bat version of Google Earth? Anyway, no one was using them. I checked. Think of it as urban reclamation.”
“The outcome was...adequate,” Tim softens. “They’ll import more but it’ll take weeks. I can pick it back up.”
Jason plays the video a third time. “The outcome was spectacular. Can you send me a copy of this? Roy’ll love it.”
Tim rolls his eyes, but he taps a command and Jason’s phone pings the receipt. “Thanks for your help. I’ll get out of your hair,” Tim says, packing up his tablet into his leather satchel.
Jason thinks he could probably tell Tim that he kept a couple of the Benellis for his arsenal in compensation but he doesn’t want to risk the inroad. “Hey, Tim,” Jason calls after him before he reaches the door.
Tim turns to look over his shoulder at him quizzically.
“Look, I know this doesn’t make up for,” Jason struggles to come up with a word that encompasses ‘me kicking your ass without provocation and sending you into an even deeper spiral of your ever-present self-doubt’ and lands on, “before. But, I mean obviously you know where I am if you need me for anything else, okay?”
Tim gives him a cautious smile. “Thanks, Jason,” he says quietly as he slips out the door.
“Now he’s just being petty,” Tim says the next night after he’s woken Jason up with his same pattern of three sharp knocks.
Jason looks blearily at the microwave clock. 3:29 AM. “Do you ever sleep?”
Tim gives him a look. “This is prime patrol time.”
“Sure,” Jason says, starting the coffee in resignation, “but not for the next like twelve days for you, right?”
“Wrong,” Tim spits. It’s the most emotion Jason has ever seen him show and it’s a little fascinating. Tim’s eyes are a bright, snapping blue and a flush is picking up in his cheeks. Jason looks away, back to the coffee. Maybe he should put on some bacon too. He might as well get up at this point.
“Wrong. I’m now benched for the next nineteen days.” Tim flops down on Jason’s ragged couch and drapes an arm over his eyes. “Bruce found out about the shipment at the harbor—your solution, while effective, wasn’t exactly subtle—and assumed I’d gone against orders. So now I get another week on the bench.”
Jason wonders if this is the first time Tim and Bruce have ever really clashed. They both seem to be blowing shit way out of proportion.
“Can I stay here for a few days?” Tim asks, continuing the trend.
Jason finally notices the duffel bag at Tim’s feet. Ohhh, no, he thinks. Then he looks at Tim’s defeated slump on his couch. He remembers what it felt like to be on the receiving end of Bruce’s disapproval, like falling through empty air after a missed grapple, waiting for the concrete to meet the brittle of your bones.
“Sure,” Jason says, recklessly.
Tim sits up at that. “Really?” he says, eyes ridiculously wide.
“Sometimes when Bruce is being an asshole, the best response is to be an asshole right back,” Jason says, dropping down next to Tim and propping his boots on the milk crates he uses for a coffee table. “I used to go hang out with all the bad kids so I guess you’re already on the right track.”
“It’ll be just for a few days,” Tim promises. “I’ll pull my weight.”
“Considering you’re about a hundred pounds soaking wet, I don’t think that’ll be a problem, Replacement,” Jason teases, nudging Tim in the side.
Tim gasps and hunches over, one hand coming up to cover his rib cage.
“Shit, I’m sorry,” Jason says, surprised. “You are hurt.”
“I’m fine. It’s just a couple bruised ribs,” Tim says. He takes a deep breath and straightens up. “And I’m a hundred and thirty pounds,” he adds, mulishly. “Alfred has me on a protein-enriched diet.”
Apparently Tim’s idea of pulling his weight is setting up a mobile command center in Jason’s living room and being his own personal Oracle.
Jason hasn’t ever let anyone into the video feed in his helmet. He mostly uses it to record any particularly awesome ass-kicking sequences for his ongoing competition with Roy. Having Tim looking through his eyes and talking in his ear is an adjustment.
What he finds most surprising is how easily he adjusts to it.
“Left,” Tim says and Jason aims a kick without even looking. There’s a satisfying groan as it connects and Jason takes down the thug in front of him with a sharp right hook.
“Nice,” Tim whistles. “Two more on your six. Flanking.”
Jason turns and spin kicks Thug One in the face. He hits the ground like a bag of rocks and Thug Two shuffles back a few steps, wary. Jason makes a come on gesture with his hand. Two hesitates so Jason goes to him. He jumps to grab the support bar of the low catwalk above Two’s head and swings forward like he’s on the uneven bars Dick used to practice with, using his momentum to plant his feet solidly in the guy’s chest. Two careens backward into a stack of metal oils drums. He doesn’t get back up.
Jason releases the bar and drops to the ground. If he adds a little bit of extra acrobatic flair à la Dick Grayson just because Tim’s watching on screen, who’s going to call him on it?
The rest of the night is quiet. Jason makes two drunks hassling the girls on the corner regret it and then walks home through the dark, still streets.
Tim is sitting on what has become his end of the couch, his narrow face bathed in the blue glow from his computer screen. He looks up when Jason comes in. “Slow night,” he comments, pushing his reading glasses up on the bridge of his nose.
Jason grunts in agreement, kicking off his boots and trying not to look too long at Tim. He’s become distressingly aware in the past few days that Tim is what could be termed adorable. From the quick glance Jason allowed himself, he knows Tim is not only wearing his black framed reading glasses but also one of Jason’s t-shirts, the too-wide collar exposing the sharp lines of his collarbone.
It had become apparent pretty quickly that Tim’s definition of necessary items in his go-bag skewed heavily toward tech gear. When he’d unpacked his duffle, he’d pulled out several laptops, an external hard drive and a wireless headset and then had to dig deep into the corners to unearth one spare t-shirt and a few clean pairs of boxers. Jason doesn’t have laundry machines in his apartment block so Tim’s been borrowing his shirts for the past two days and it’s starting to make Jason crazy.
Jason should probably kick him out, send Tim to Dick if he doesn’t want to face Bruce at the Manor. Tim’s promised few days are up but neither of them have said anything about it. Jason has found that he likes the company. He likes the soft hum of Tim’s computers and the way Tim has rearranged his DVDs, how he’s ordered enough Thai food in the past three days to feed an army, the white cartons multiplying in Jason’s refrigerator.
Tim gets up from the couch to come sit at the table where Jason is laying out his equipment for maintenance and Jason likes that too, the way Tim checks the straps on Jason’s armor and the heads up display he’s adding to the helmet.
Tim’s hands skate cautiously around the guns. Jason had expected something catty about The Mission’s no-kill rule, but the only comment Tim had made about Jason’s equipment was when he’d asked where Jason’s back up grapple was and Jason had said he didn’t have one.
“What do you mean you don’t have a redundant grappling hook?” Tim had said with horror, before pulling one with enhanced hydraulics out of his apparently never-ending bag of tech crap and pressing it on Jason.
It’s a solid weight against Jason’s thigh every night now and even though he thinks an extra 9mm might be more useful, Jason knows he’s going to keep it there.
This one’s going to Roy, Jason thinks, looking with satisfaction at the six downed scumbags, all out cold, not even groaning in pain. Jason has been winning their kick ass and blow shit up competition hands down this past week.
“You want to send this to Roy, don’t you?” Tim asks, amused. “I’ll do it. Do you have a witty subtitle in mind?”
“FTW,” Jason suggests.
“Of course,” Tim says, indulgently. Jason is 100% sure he’s rolling his eyes. “You done for the night? Want to go get some breakfast?”
It’s just past five and Jason is shit tired but pancakes sound like heaven. “See you at Denny’s in ten.”
Tim has already commandeered the corner booth with the best view of the exits by the time Jason arrives, the bell on the door announcing his entrance. He’s left his helmet and body armor in the alley but the old man at the counter still gives him a suspicious look.
Tim is wearing Jason’s blue Superman t-shirt. Jason bought it at a thrift shop a couple years ago, right after he first got back to Gotham, because it was a perfect match for one he’d had as a kid and he still remembers the way Bruce had just stopped in the middle of a lecture on the principles of thermodynamics when he’d registered the logo and looked at him, indignant. Puting that look on Bruce’s face will always be one of Jason’s fondest memories. Tim had run his fingers along the S when Jason offered the shirt to him, mixed in with the more traditional solids, and set it to one side.
“Nice shirt,” Jason says, smirking, but it falters when Tim doesn’t smile back.
“Thanks,” Tim says, quiet. He touches his fingers to the S again, where it curves over his heart. “I ordered you pancakes.”
“You’re a star, Drake.”
Tim hums and finishes draining his coffee. He frowns at the empty mug and takes it up to the counter for a refill.
The waitress deposits Jason’s blueberry pancakes and he’s happily shoveling them into his mouth when his phone pings with a text from Roy.
wtf. did u edit this?!
Jason hasn’t even watched the video yet. He hits play. Tim’s cleaned it up with some kind of filter and added a soundtrack in the background, all drums and bass. It looks like the trailer for a shoot ‘em up summer blockbuster.
did u get a choreographer??
can i borrow them????
no, he’s mine, Jason replies back immediately. Then he looks at his phone and thinks, oh fuck, I am so fucked. This is not good. He needs to get Tim out of his apartment. He needs to do his damn laundry.
“I’m not even sure Bruce knows I’m hanging out here,” Tim says, oblivious. He’s brought back the entire coffee pot and the newspaper. “I need to up the ante. Would you be my date to the Wayne Enterprises charity gala tonight? It’s to support a new clinic in East End.” He hands Jason the front page of the society section. Apparently the Wayne Gala is the #1 Place to Be for the week.
“Well they sure as fuck need one. Yeah,” Jason says, even though the bad decision alarm is ringing in his head. “Black tie?”
Tim nods. “Do you have a tux?”
“Somewhere,” Jason says, trying to think of the last time he’d worn it. Some damn undercover gig.
“Great,” Tim says. “I have to sneak mine out of the Manor. Meet me at The Grand at eight o’clock?”
“I’ll be there,” Jason says.
Okay, this was a mistake, Jason thinks, looking at Tim in his fitted black tux. He’s accented it with a skinny sapphire tie and a matching pocket square. His hair is pushed up out of his face with gel and his cheekbones are devastating.
Tim looks at Jason’s traditional black tux, just a little tight in the shoulders, and nods. “Hot,” he says, approving. “Bruce will totally believe I put aside our differences to hit that.”
Jason fights hard not to choke on his tongue.
Tim sees Bruce across the room and his smiling lips flatten. “Hold on,” he says, removing his pocket square. He tucks the fabric into Jason’s empty breast pocket and smirks, “Perfect.”
Jason offers Tim his arm, only half mockingly, and Tim takes it with perfect equanimity as they descend to the ballroom.
Almost as soon as they reach the bottom of the staircase, Jason loses Tim to a woman in a silver sheath dress who tows him away toward a man with a neatly trimmed white mustache. Tim looks over his shoulder longsufferingly and mouths, investors.
Jason waves him off. The booze and shellfish are usually the only redeeming features of these kind of parties and Jason navigates his way toward the shrimp and champagne tables unerringly. He’s stuffing crab cakes into his mouth when Bruce appears next to him, frowning.
Jason watches Bruce’s eyes move from the deep blue of Jason’s pocket square to the perfect match of Tim’s tie. Point to Drake, Jason thinks, smiling inwardly.
There’s a wealth of backstory in Bruce’s voice when he asks, skeptically, “You came here with Tim?”
Jason doesn’t let himself wince from the hit. He learned years ago not to flinch in front of Bruce.
Still, it’s a valid question. It took Jason a long time to realize that it wasn’t Tim he was angry with, and it probably would have taken a lot longer if Tim hadn’t forced the issue about three months ago. Tim had tracked Jason down to an empty black alley in the Narrows and said, “Look, you can have it back. Everyone would probably be happier.”
He unhooked his cape and let it slither to the ground at Jason’s feet. Unbuckling his Kevlar chestplate, he dropped it on top of the cape and added, “And if it’s just that it’s me you don’t want wearing it, that’s okay too. I understand that I never really deserved it.”
“What the hell are you doing, Replacement,” Jason said, flatly.
“You always call me that like I won something,” Tim said, “but I never really replaced you. Bruce looked at that case more than he ever looked at me.” He removed his left gauntlet and examined it. “Considering the figurative implications of me dropping this, I’m going to hand it to you.”
Jason took it with numb fingers. When Tim started to pull off his other gauntlet, he interrupted, roughly, “Don’t. It’s yours now.”
Tim looked ridiculously fragile without the Kevlar. Christ, Bruce went all out on the armor, Jason thought. It was probably the only emotionally stunted way he had to show that he cared. Looking at Tim without the protection, seeing how easily he could kill him, made Jason suddenly realize how much he didn’t actually want to.
“Kid,” Jason said, strapping Tim back into his Kevlar, “It’s not you I’m mad at.”
Jason swallows his crab cakes. “I like Tim,” he tells Bruce honestly. “He’s got a nice…brain.” Jason gives an exaggerated leer to where Tim is schmoozing with the investors. His ass looks genuinely amazing.
A muscle in Bruce’s cheek twitches. “Yes,” he says. “Tim is usually very smart.” There’s something weary about his tone that makes Jason wonder what other bad decisions Tim’s been making lately.
“I’m going to take him some champagne,” Jason says, partly because he’s on Tim’s side in whatever this boundary negotiating battle they have going on is and partly because he’s truly interested to see how far they can push Bruce who, for all his drunken public persona, has always looked on alcohol as pointless, reflex-dulling swill.
Tim’s a better actor than Jason would have given him credit for. He looks charmed when Jason brings him the champagne flute and he fits himself easily against Jason side, like he belongs there, in the curve of Jason’s arm.
Tim introduces Jason with his first name only, because while Jason doubts anyone would recognize him after all these years, there are still people who remember that Bruce’s dead kid was named Jason Todd. All the board members and investors and socialites that flock to Tim look at Jason curiously and he gets the impression that Tim doesn’t bring people to these kinds of events often.
He also gets the impression that Tim takes the whole Drake-Wayne thing pretty seriously. Lucius Fox hands over people with names even Jason recognizes to Tim with perfect trust and Tim quotes statistics and projected earnings and business jargon like he was born to it.
“What’s your actual title at Wayne Enterprises?” Jason asks after another investor has walked off smiling.
“VP of Strategic Planning,” Tim says. “Everyone knows I’m a perfect example of nepotism,” he adds self-deprecatingly. “I’m not even finished with college yet and I’m getting my degree in Computer Engineering, not Business.”
“People seem pretty okay with it,” Jason says. Not particularly surprising, considering Tim is one of the most relentlessly competent people he’s ever met.
Tim opens his mouth to say something but then snaps it closed. Jason follows his line of sight.
Dick is making a beeline towards them. He looks like he ran over straight from the station. He’s wearing a creased black jacket over his white uniform shirt. Alfred would weep.
“Tim,” Dick says, all relief, like Tim’s been missing. He does a double take when he recognizes Jason at Tim’s side—luckily Bruce isn’t here to deliver a lecture on situational awareness—but he focuses back on Tim without making a comment.
“Dick,” Tim returns calmly, with just a hint of the inflection Jason used to use when he meant dick and not Dick.
Jason tries to hide his surprise. Whatever is going on with Bruce, he hadn’t suspected that Tim was upset with Dick too.
“I didn’t think you’d be here tonight,” Dick says. “Can we go somewhere and talk?”
“Dick,” Tim sighs, “I left because I’m benched and I don’t want to talk about it.”
“It’s not...it wasn’t some kind of slight, Tim,” Dick says, because clearly they are going to talk about it. “We’re worried about you.”
Tim’s forehead scrunches in irritation. “I”m fine.”
“You’re not fine,” Dick says, looking agonized. “Please come home.”
Tim softens. “I’ll be back soon, okay?” he says.
Dick doesn’t look like that’s okay but their tête-à-tête is interrupted by yet another investor and Tim instantly transitions to Tim Drake-Wayne, VP of Strategic Planning, and spends the next half hour discussing stock futures in more intimate detail than Jason’s ever cared to know in his life. Dick slinks away after less than ten minutes, probably to search out Bruce.
When the investor finally releases him, Tim shotguns his champagne. “Can we please go home?” he asks tiredly, and Jason knows he doesn’t mean the Manor.
“Sure,” Jason says. He loops an arm around Tim’s waist, like a good boyfriend, and steers him through the crowd and out to the side alley where he parked his bike.
Bruce has tailed them outside and is scanning the street for them. Jason thinks, suddenly, Fuck you. I’ll take better care of him than you did.
Jason hands Tim the helmet and waits for him to climb onto the back of the motorcycle. When he’s settled comfortably, Jason revs the engine, loud enough to make Bruce and half the people in the valet line look over, and speeds them away down Main Street, Tim clinging tight to his back.
The couch where Tim usually sleeps is buried under his half a dozen laptops, the faint lights of sleep mode blinking peacefully, and a pile of fiber optic cable he’s been swearing at and untangling for the better part of the past two days for some project Jason’s afraid to even ask about. Tim looks like he might keel over any second so Jason makes an executive decision and steers him to the bedroom.
“Thanks, Jay,” Tim says as Jason pulls the duvet over him, the diminutive rolling easily off his tongue. His eyes are soft.
Jason doesn’t know what to say back, so he doesn’t say anything. He punches his pillow into shape and lays down over the covers and at 2 AM, he rolls soundlessly out of bed and slips out for a patrol because it’s difficult to look at Tim, snoring softly into Jason’s pillow, and realize that he isn’t counting down the days until Tim leaves for the reasons he thought.
Dawn is just threatening to break and Jason is huddled under an overhang to escape the cold rain that’s been sleeting down for the last half hour when Nightwing drops down beside him.
“So, look, I know it can be difficult to tell with Tim, but he’s having kind of a hard time right now,” Dick says, without prelude.
“Well, yeah,” Jason says, confused. “No one likes to be benched. Hello to you too.”
Dick shakes his head. “He’s benched because he’s going through a hard time. It’s been making him reckless.”
“We’re talking about the same Tim, right?” Jason clarifies. “Tim ‘six back up plans, two redundant grappling hooks and a grenade, just in case’ Drake? That Tim?”
God, Jason had almost forgotten the big, sad-eyed look Dick is giving him. He used to get it all the time at breakfast the mornings after he came home late from some party and Bruce was waiting up in the kitchen, in the dark, and they’d stared at each other in silence for a full minute before Jason stumbled up to bed.
“He’s lost a lot of people recently,” Dick says. “His two best friends. Stephanie. His dad. The hits just kept coming. He stopped being so careful.”
Shit, Tim was best friends with the Super kid, Jason thinks, remembering how he wore the S shirt like a wound. Jason’s been waiting for Tim to tell him, but he thinks maybe he needs to know now. “What exactly happened two weeks ago?”
“You got in the middle of a fucking mob shootout?” Jason yells, slamming the door behind him.
“It was a skirmish,” Tim says from the couch where he’s back at his fiber optic project.
“Fourteen people pointing guns at each other is a shootout, Tim. You do not engage without a clear advantage.” Jason can’t believe he has to say this to Tim, of all people, who knows the Bat rulebook backwards and forwards and has probably given Bruce 99% less heart attacks than the rest of the Robins.
“That’s what the stun grenades were for.”
“Yeah, and how well did that work out for you?” Jason snipes.
Tim is the kind of self-sufficient that wouldn’t call for help unless he was bleeding to death, and maybe not even then, so he must have looked pretty bad when Batman showed up. Bruce obviously didn’t handle it well because he’s Bruce and he finds Kryptonian rocket science more easily intelligible than feelings but Jason can at least see where he was coming from now when he relegated Tim to the bench for a couple weeks of look at your life, look at your choices.
“It’s two broken ribs!” Tim yells, like it’s the Bat equivalent of a hangnail and not another mark against him.
Jason looks at him accusingly. “You said they were only bruised.”
Tim throws down his cables and stands up. “I didn’t think you’d really care about the distinction!”
“Well, guess what? I care!” Jason shouts.
Tim looks at him oddly. “Why?”
The room is suddenly quiet. Jason can hear the staccato rain against the window glass. “Because you’re my— you’re my—”
“Brother?” Tim offers, stiffly.
“No, fuck that,” Jason says, grabbing Tim as carefully as he can around the waist with his left arm. He puts his hand behind Tim’s neck, tilts his face to look him straight in the eye. “You’re my boyfriend,” Jason says, pulling Tim tight against him.
Tim gasps into Jason’s mouth. His arms come up around Jason’s neck and Jason’s backing them toward the wall when Tim twists and pulls away.
“Like ‘boyfriend’ boyfriend?” he says, to clarify. “Not like my ‘piss Bruce off’ boyfriend?”
“Well, that will probably continue to be a bonus,” Jason admits, “but yeah, my ‘boyfriend’ boyfriend. My ‘brilliant, hotass’ boyfriend. My ‘will not go running toward armed mobsters with no back up’ boyfriend.”
Tim rolls his eyes. “Let’s not go getting carried away here.”
Jason smirks and grabs Tim under the thighs, boosting him up so he can wrap his legs around Jason’s waist. “Oh, I think we might get a little carried away,” he says.
“How many goddamn galas can one man host in a month?” Jason gripes, struggling with his bow tie.
“It’s not a gala, it’s a product launch party,” Tim says, turning Jason to face him and straightening his bow tie in two efficient tugs. Jason takes the opportunity to look Tim up and down. He’s gorgeous, as always. His suit has red accents this time.
“Gonna give me your pocket square again so we match?” Jason teases.
Tim smirks and transfers the fold of red fabric to Jason’s pocket. “Perfect,” he says.
Yeah, Jason thinks, looking at them standing side by side in the mirror, It does look pretty good.